There are four main laser classes with three additional subclasses, starting with Class 1, which is safe under all conditions, and 1M which is safe under all conditions except when passed through the lens found in telescopes or microscopes. The most commonly used lasers fall under Class 2, Class 3R, Class 3B and Class 4.
With the creation of the laser pointer, lasers have become more prevalent in our everyday lives and the more normalized lasers are, the easier it is to forget how powerful they can be. So, how do you know when a laser is too powerful to be used casually? The answer is laser classes.
The laser classification system was created in the early 1970 and later accepted by the FDA after being revised in 2007. A key part of laser safety, this system can show just how dangerous lasers can be and has served as a precedent for many regulations regarding the sale and possession of laser pointers. These classes categorized lasers by the level of damage they can do on humans, ranging from low (Class 1) to severe (Class 4). A laser’s potential to do damage is mainly measured by its power in milliwatts in relation to wavelength and time exposed.
So, what sets apart each laser classification from the next?
Class 2 Lasers
A Class 2 laser is a safe laser as long as the eye is not exposed to the laser for longer than .25 seconds. Often the eye will blink prior to the .25 second limit as a natural defense. But, as a safety precaution Class 2 lasers must include a label warning communicating something along the lines of “Do not stare into beam.” Similar to Class 1, Class 2 also has a subclass called Class 2M which labels a laser safe with the .25 second limit excepted when passed through a magnifying lens.
Class 3R/3A Lasers
For a laser to be considered a Class 3R laser it must be under 5 mW. These lasers are considered safe if beam viewing is restricted. Making eye contact with the beam puts users at a low risk of injury. Class 3 lasers must include a label warning communicating something along the lines of “Avoid direct eye exposure.”
Class 3B Lasers
When in the presence of a Class 3B laser the potential for serious injury reaches a medium/high level. It’s very common for protective glasses to be worn when using Class 3B lasers and are required to include a warning label reading “Avoid exposure to beam.” You may be surprised to learn that, while they are the second most powerful, Class 3B lasers are used to read CDs and DVDs.
Class 4 Lasers
Class 4 lasers are the most powerful lasers with the highest potential to cause severe harm to humans. Unlike the other laser classes which only deem a laser beam dangerous if directly viewed, a Class 4 laser can cause severe damage even if indirectly viewed. They have the ability to burn skin if exposed and present a fire risk. Laser safety is of utmost importance when handling Class 4 lasers.
One way to avoid eye damage from any laser is by using lasers with 100% IR filtration. Alpec laser pointers provide 100% IR filtration, plus approval from the FDA and the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) to give you peace of mind that it is safe to use for presentation and pointing.
Happy (Safe) Pointing!