A very valid question that is often asked by those interested in buying lasers and laser equipment is: How safe are they, really? Are there risks involved when using lasers? In this blog, we’ll explore the different types of lasers available, what the safety rules are, and what you should pay close attention to as an operator or a spectator.

How dangerous are show lasers?

Laser diode: features and functionality

A laser device is equipped with a laser diode, which emits a concentrated beam of light with a very high light intensity. The diode is relatively small and the technology used to make it is similar to that of an LED, with the exception of the directional, high light yield. Laser diodes are available in various colours. The most common combination of colours is red, green and blue (RGB). Green has the highest light intensity, followed by red, then blue. Green laser diodes boast the highest light yield and are relatively affordable to produce, which is why they are the most commonly-used of the three. Just like more powerful LEDs, it’s vital that the laser diodes are kept cool for optimal efficiency and a long lifespan.

The laser pointer: Potentially dangerous

You might be surprised to know that the laser pointer, which is often used in presentations, is potentially one of the most dangerous lasers you can buy. This applies specifically to laser pointers with a relatively high output capacity. Most laser pointers are equipped with a red laser diode that generates a light yield of about 5 mW, which is enough to shine a visible red dot on the projection screen so you can point specific things out to your audience. There are also laser pointers, however, that can generate a light intensity of up to 200 mW, which means that a seemingly harmless little dot can do substantial damage if aimed into someone’s eye. Fortunately, a laser pointer with this output level is much harder to come by nowadays.

Popular types of show lasers

One type of entertainment laser that is becoming increasingly popular is the grating laser. This device is also equipped with laser diodes and a laser pointer, but is a lot less (potentially) dangerous. This type of laser effect consists of moving laser points or figures that are projected onto walls, the ceiling and the dance floor. Traditional show lasers, on the other hand, operate very differently. Instead of projecting light through an effects wheel like a grating laser does, traditional lasers have a set of two moving mirrors, also known as a scan set. Each mirror is mounted on the axis of a step motor, and one step motor is responsible for the laser beam’s horizontal movement while the other is responsible for laser beam’s vertical movement.

Professional laser vs. budget laser: Is one safer than the other?

Because the speed of a professional laser is much faster than a budget laser, the chance of stationary laser burning through something is quite small. That being said, a budget laser has a lower light intensity, which means the laser beam itself is not as potentially hazardous. Professional lasers are almost always equipped with extra safety precautions. It is therefore difficult to say whether a professional is more or less dangerous than a budget laser; in both cases, it’s essential to handle the device responsibly. When it comes to legislation, there are few restrictions in terms of using show lasers at events, in fixed locations and at parties. The operator of the laser must always be aware of the status of the laser(s) in use so they can intervene if necessary. Lastly, regardless of its price tag, a laser should never be left unattended.

Class division, laws and rules

As mentioned above, there is very little legislation about what is and isn’t allowed. There is however a division of classes, namely:

  • Class 1 is completely safe because the light is usually contained in an enclosure (like a CD player).
  • Class 2 is safe during normal use; blinking your eye will prevent any damage from occurring. (laser pointers with a light yield of up to 1 mW).
  • Class 3R (formerly IIIa) has a small risk of eye damage. Staring into the beam likely to cause damage to a spot on the retina. (up to 5 mW)
  • Class 3B is relatively hazardous and can cause immediate eye damage upon exposure (both direct and scattered light beam, 5 – 500 mW)
  • Class 4 is hazardous and can burn the skin. In some cases, even scattered light can cause eye and/or skin damage. Many industrial and scientific lasers are in this class. (500 mW or more)

While it  is legal for retailers to sell laser pointers and laser gadgets that are recognised as Class 2, 2M, 3R, 3B and 4 products, products recognised as Class 2 or higher must carry an official warning symbol.

Photography and filming during laser shows

An important factor that is often overlooked when taking pictures or filming during a laser show, is the sensor in your camera is extremely sensitive for laser intensity, making it susceptible to damage. It’s even more sensitive than the retina of your eye. It’s a good idea to inform yourself before filming or taking pictures at an event where lasers will be used. Make sure you are never taking pictures or filming while directly in the path of a laser beam.

In conclusion

To sum up, it’s essential that lasers are used responsibly, safely, and never left unattended. Always avoid looking directly into a laser beam and make sure not to stand in the path of a leaser beam when filming or taking photos to prevent the camera sensor from getting damaged. If you’re unsure, inform yourself of the risks involved.

Do you have anything to add to this blog? Let us know in the comments below!

See also

Laser effects
Other types of lighting effects

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