By Geoff Giordano

A new standard geared towards lasers employed in research takes a “more realistic” approach to guiding safety officers overseeing such work, in which the use of customized laser devices and fiber optics is common.

American National Standard for Safe Use of Lasers in Research, Development, or Testing, the title of the new ANSI Z136.8 standard, also addresses injury prevention in specific areas where experiments are conducted.

“In the research setting, you’re often dealing with lasers that don’t have all the bells and whistles,” explains Ken Barat, chairman of the subcommittee that developed the new standard. “Z136.8 recognizes that many lasers in the research setting are homemade and may not have all these controls, so I do not have to explain why they are missing to auditors. (Z136.8) allows LSOs to accept those things rather than say you’re out of compliance.”

The ANSI Z136.8 standard — LIA’s latest offering in a range of vital resources for laser personnel — arose from the increasing reliance on lasers in labs and other research-designated areas.

“Laser applications in the research setting have been on a steadily increasing pace, in particular with the development of pico- and femtosecond lasers as well as nano laser technology,” says Barat, Laser Safety Officer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The existing Z136.1 Safe Use of Lasers standard was becoming out of sync with these new laser applications in R&D.”

Other highlights include guidance on export controls, the use of warning signs, inclusion of sample audit forms for labs and program reviews, and deletion of some CDRH-based control measures. Z136.8 further distinguishes itself from the parent ANSI Z136.1 document by:

• Detailing two additional hazard analysis areas — beam path and beam interaction.

• Summarizing proper procedure in unrestricted, restricted, controlled, exclusion and inaccessible locations.

• Allowing the use of alignment eyewear.

“If I have a green laser that I’m trying to align and I put on eyewear that blocks all the green light, I can’t do what I want to do,” Barat says, meaning the user might opt not to wear protection. “(Z136.8) acknowledges that alignment eyewear lets you reduce the intensity of the beam but lets you see it.”

“Laser safety in all research settings I know are an effort between the LSO and researcher,” Barat concludes. “But research settings are more fluid. In industry, once the controls are in place, things are pretty much set for long periods of use. In medical settings, people work off a checklist for each procedure, and the doctor and nurses argue over eyewear use. In R&D a set up can stay the same with just different samples for years or change every few weeks following the path of the results or funding.”

LIA, the recognized industry leader in laser advocacy and safety education since 1968, serves as secretariat of the Z136 series of laser safety standards, administering the process and providing support to the committee. To order the Z136.8 ($140 for LIA members, $160 for nonmembers), visit or call LIA at 1.800.34.LASER.


Geoff Giordano is a freelance writer.