User awareness of potential laser-exposure hazards is essential for a successful laser safety program. As the type of potential injury can vary significantly as a function of the laser's wavelength and duration of exposure, it is useful to build a general awareness of the biological effects. Unfortunately, this awareness seems to fade the more one works with lasers (unless one works with beams powerful enough to ionize air; there is nothing like the crackling of air ionizing or plasma generation to warn one to stay out of the beam). This chapter serves as an abbreviated review of introductory concepts and provides the reader with references for further reading.
The chief concern over laser use has always been the possibility of eye injury. While skin presents a greater target, it is injury to one's eyes that drives laser safety, funding, controls, and applications. The effect of laser radiation will vary with the wavelength and the part of the eye with which the beam interacts. In addition, biological effects from direct exposure and diffuse reflection exposure will differ. In this chapter, the anatomy of the eye and skin will be explained, as well as issues associated with biological effects.
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