It is important that the laser user and LSO do not develop tunnel vision and look only at laser hazards when considering safety in the laser-use area. While beam hazards (exposure to the laser beam) are the most prominent laser hazards, other hazards pose an equal or possibly greater risk of injury or death. To date we have not melted people with a laser beam, but we have had laser users electrocuted and patients die from operating room fires with the laser as the heat or ignition source. As laser technology applications expand further into our society, a greater number of associated or nonbeam hazards will need to be considered in order to have a safe workplace. For example, at a construction site, which is the greater hazard to the worker: the alignment laser used in a trench, or the lack of adequate bracing of the trench, which could cave in and cause a worker's death? Or, when laying an optical fiber for communications, is it the confined work in a manhole, or the laser fiber itself that one should be more concerned about? Clearly, one must always be aware of hazards associated with an activity. The number one associated hazard with laser use is the possible electrical hazard.
Electrical hazards are not the only nonbeam hazard. Here are a few common and not-so-common items for your consideration. Paper-viewing cards in the beam can burn if their focus is too close or they are left too long in the beam. Additionally, the smoke is bad for optics. In my experience, the cards rarely actually catch fire, but they do char. The same is true for coaxial cable; it melts and gives off nasty fumes if it falls into a beam path.
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