All over the world, laser products are identified with warning labels like the ones above. But what does a Class 1 label mean? And who decides which labels to apply?
A class 1 laser product is a device that complies with laser safety standards from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). These regulations ensure that lasers identified with a “Class 1 laser product” label are safe. As such, they do not require any additional laser beam control measures.
Class 1 Lasers vs. Class 1 Laser Products
Class 1 lasers and class 1 laser products are not the same thing. While both are perfectly safe, they do not contain the same type of laser. Class 1 lasers are low-power lasers that are inherently safe. Class 1 laser products contain more powerful, higher class lasers that need to be enclosed to make them safe.
For example, you could view the beam from a class 1 laser without any protective eyewear because the maximum permissible exposure (MPE) cannot be exceeded. However, exposing your skin or your eyes to a class 1 laser product could pose dangers, but the product’s design prevents it from happening.
How are Laser Products Regulated?
As an international organization, the IEC recommends measures for laser products with experts from up to 88 participating countries. These recommendations are regrouped under the IEC 60825-1 standard. But the IEC does not enforce laser standards.
Depending on your location in the world, different entities regulate laser products. The organizations that regulate laser safety have adapted the IEC’s recommendations to specific needs such as medical and industrial applications.
But organizations that regulate laser safety have shown increased flexibility over time, accepting products that conform to standards from other organizations. As a general rule, if your laser product complies with the IEC’s standards, it also complies with local standards, and vice versa.
Here are some examples of local organizations that regulate laser safety and their stance on other standards.
The United States
In the United States, the Laser Institute of America (LIA) has developed the American National Standard ANSI Z136.1.
However, it is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates laser products using their own standard—the Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. In 2019, they released an official notice claiming that manufacturers can either follow the IEC’s or the FDA’s standards, even though there are differences.
Lasers in the workplace can also be regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which accepts both the LIA’s and FDA’s standards to evaluate laser safety.
In Canada, the CSA has developed the CAN/CSA-E60825-1 standard, which they present as “an adoption, with Canadian deviations, of the identically titled [IEC] Standard 60825-1”.
Laser Classification and Class-1 Laser Products
Lasers are classified according to their ability to cause harm, which is calculated using factors such as the exposure time, laser wavelength, laser power. The result of these calculations is referred to as the accessible emission limits (AEL).
All lasers, regardless of their laser classification, can be transformed into class-1 laser products to make them completely safe.
Non-class-1 laser products that you find in everyday life may pose dangers from laser radiation, such as eye injuries, skin hazards, and fire hazards. Class 1M lasers, for example, are not the same thing as Class 1 lasers, as they may be hazardous when viewed using an optical instrument.
Other laser classes found in everyday life include Class 2, Class 2M, Class 3R, and Class 3B lasers. Class 4 lasers also exist, but you will only find these high-power lasers in controlled environments.
You can find examples of the different laser classes, laser products, and laser hazards here.
What If a Laser Product is Not Class 1 Rated?
In an ideal world, all laser systems would be Class 1 laser products to prevent hazards, but that is not always the case. In fact, most laser systems are not Class 1.
Manufacturers, for example, use class-4 laser systems to perform operations like laser marking, laser cleaning, laser texturing, and laser welding. Sometimes, these lasers are put into a highly controlled room where workers wear protective personal equipment (PPE). But most of the time, laser manufacturers and system integrators transform Class 4 lasers into Class 1 laser products to simplify laser safety.
Non-class 1 laser do not always need to be enclosed. Class 2 lasers, for example, can only harm you if you intentionally stare into the laser beam without eye protection. This is because your body naturally protects you. When you view the laser beam, your body reacts using different aversion responses, such as blink reflexes and head movements.
Beyond Class 1 Laser Product Safety
Class 1 laser products ensure you are safe from all laser hazards, but there are other safety issues you may need to worry about.
Industrial laser systems used for laser marking, cleaning, welding, and texturing can generate fumes, and may require additional safety measures like a laser fume extractor. If you need a laser for industrial applications, Laserax provides turnkey solutions that meet Class 1 laser safety standards as well as other important safety concerns. The best way to get started is to let us know your application.