Introduction to laser safety
The popularity of laser light shows has risen exponentially over the past few years. Many experts now believe that the laser light show industry is on the verge of becoming a billion dollar industry. In today’s entertainment scene, we see laser projectors being used just about everywhere. From concerts and tours, sporting events, live television and corporate productions, festivals, nightclubs, discos and more. Lasers have rapidly become one of the world’s favorite entertainment lighting effects – and thats why we care about laser safety.
With such a huge increase in the number of new people entering the laser show business, as well as the number of laser light shows taking place, a need has also grown for proper laser safety training as well as laser safety products that are easy to use. Laser safety is a very complex and highly technical topic, and it can be hard to fully grasp. But, our industry depends on the safe use of lasers for entertainment purposes. A single accident could easily lead to a significant decline in the use of lasers for entertainment. So we all must do our part, to ensure laser shows are done in a safe, and compliant manner.
Pangolin Laser Systems, Inc. has been in the laser show business for more than 30 years, and we have always been a leader in the application and promotion of laser safety. Pangolin has received numerous patents and international awards, for innovative laser safety technologies we have brought to the market.
In this report we will provide you with in-depth information on the various types of laser effects that can be produced, and the safety implications of those effects. You will also learn more about Pangolin’s Safety Technologies, as well as gain information about training courses you can look into, to further your knowledge of laser safety.
Why certain laser effects are potentially more hazardous than others
Laser light shows have been taking place for more than forty years. In all this time, a very small number of incidents have been reported, that claim someone was injured or harmed as a result of a laser light show. Frankly speaking, laser shows are one of the safest special effects that can be produced, especially when the operator takes the necessary laser safety precautions and procedures into account. However, certain laser effects carry an increased potential for hazard, and as such, an understanding of the hazard potential, and how to perform these effects safely, is imperative for any laser operator.
There are essentially four types of effects that can be produced with laser light. These are briefly defined in the following paragraphs.
Laser Graphics – Projected text, logos and animations created with a laser are commonly referred to as “graphic effects” within our industry. These effects are becoming incredibly popular, especially with corporate clients, sporting venues and the like, who want to see their company name or logo projected in laser light. You can also project laser graphics through water (i.e. water screens) or semi-transparent screens called scrims to produce what appears to be a floating image. Different laser graphics can also be choreographed together to create full-on laser graphic shows. These can be set to a particular theme (such as a birthday, wedding, holiday, etc). You can watch an example of a laser graphic show on our YouTube channel here:
In most cases, laser graphics are completely safe, especially when the projected images are out of the reach, or above the heads, of those watching the show.
Overhead Beams – The second effect, and one of the most popular, is known as “overhead beam effects”. This is where atmospheric laser effects are projected over the heads of people in the audience, and theoretically fog (or haze created from pyrotechnics) is often used creating a “ceiling” of of laser light. We call this a “liquid sky effect”, as it produces a sort of marbling look, which is quite captivating.
Overhead beam effects are completely safe, because laser light is not coming into contact with those watching the show.
Outdoor Projection – The third type of effect is an outdoor projection. These can be used just about anywhere, and have become very popular for use in large metropolitan areas, as well as at theme parks, hotels and other attractions. Outdoor projections can be quite complex to setup, as they generally cover a large geographic area. But despite the complexities of these setups, outdoor shows are becoming more and more popular around the world, as the need to entertain large audiences and attract consumers is also growing. Outdoor projections are completely safe as well, as long as no laser light comes in contact with those viewing the show, and as long as the show taking place, has been approved by local airspace officials (you should not project laser beams into an area where aircraft may be flying).
Audience Scanning – Considered by many to be the “holy grail” of laser effects, audience scanning is where laser light is intentionally projected directly into an audience area, allowing people to interact and actually reach out and touch the light. While this effect is perhaps the most beautiful that can be produced with a laser, it is carries the greatest risk of an unsafe light level, and requires that the laser operator take certain safety precautions to ensure that the light level does not exceed recognized safety standards. In addition, there are certain regulations surrounding the performance of audience scanning in different geographic territories around the world. Therefore, as an entertainment lighting professional, you must become aware of these regulations in the areas where you perform.
In summary, the vast majority of laser effects produced are completely safe, especially when the laser effects being displayed do not directly come into contact with those viewing the show.
The only laser effects that are potentially hazardous, are those effects that come in contact with the audience. Why? We will explain the answer to this question here, without getting too technical.
Why laser effects are more potentially hazardous than regular lights – The following diagram provides a great illustration and starting point, to help explain why directly viewing a laser beam can be potentially hazardous.
As the diagram above helps illustrate, the human eye is able to focus laser light much more efficiently than it can other types of light (such as sunlight). Better focusing leads to better concentration of the light. And, just like when holding a magnifying glass to focus a beam of sunlight into a given area, the human eye will focus laser light into a very small spot. At very high levels, the concentrated energy could become hazardous to a person’s eyes.
This is a major reason why there are regulations surrounding the performance of audience scanning, especially in the United States, as well as in some other countries. And, it is also why we at Pangolin strongly urge anyone performing audience scanning, to first understand these laser effects, what makes the effect potentially hazardous, and to learn how to present audience scanning shows safely and correctly, before performing the effect in a live show scenario.
As a world leader in laser show safety, our team here at Pangolin has compiled a wealth of great articles that go on to discuss the various laser safety aspects touched on in this report; including audience scanning safety and the use of lasers in airspace. You can access these articles using the links below:
Audience Scanning Safety Article – Making laser shows safe and enjoyable, by William R. Benner Jr.
Laser Safety Thesis
A Risk Assessment Methodology for the Use of Lasers in the Entertainment Industry, by John O’Hagan
Handy Laser Safety Document – A Generic Safety Policy, Risk Assessment, and Contract, by Jeremy Turner
Lasers and aviation safety – Overview and FAQ
Laser Safety Technology from Pangolin
At Pangolin, we don’t just talk about laser safety, we live by it. As such, we’ve developed a variety of laser safety technologies over the years, that help make laser safety easier for operators to understand, incorporate and handle. A brief overview of these technologies as well as information on how they help make shows safer, is presented below.
The Beam Attenuation Map – Our patented Beam Attenuation Map (or BAM for short) is a standard safety feature inside of all Pangolin software. The beam attenuation map allows you as a laser operator to define safe areas within your projection space. Using the BAM, you can reduce the laser output power by a defined amount when projected into areas that might be deemed more sensitive. For example, if you will be projecting laser into an audience area (i.e. audience scanning), you can reduce the laser output by a given amount (say 50, 60, or 70%), when it is projected into that audience area. However, the laser power will not be reduced when projected into other “safe” areas. You can easily control the amount of exposure using a simple grid inside of the BAM, as you can see below.
The SafetyScan Lens – The SafetyScan lenses provide an incredibly easy and affordable way to increase the safety of your laser light shows. Our patented lenses are a uniquely designed series of “half lenses” which are coated with a special anti-reflective coating on both the front and rear surfaces. When properly installed, lenses increase the divergence of the laser beam when scanning downward into the audience, but not when projecting outside the audience area. This allows you to create a beautiful laser light show, and keep the beams which project on the audience at a fun an enjoyable level while not affecting the overhead beams at all. The lenses are available as a complete kit (which includes all six lenses, and a carrying case) or you can purchase only the specific lens you need. Using our universal lens mount, any lenses can easily be incorporated onto nearly any type of laser projector, from nearly any manufacturer. The end result, is a visually-impactful and powerful show, which is both safe and enjoyable for the audience to view. You can also watch our Safety Scan Lens Tutorial Video, which further explains this technology, and provides great insight on how to choose the best lens, for your given application.
Here you can see the videos:
SafetyScan Lens Set
In this example, notice how the laser beams going into the audience have a slightly increased divergence as a result of using a SafetyScan lens, thus making the laser beams going into the audience safer. And the overhead beams are not affected at all. Resulting in a visually impactful, yet safe audience scanning laser show.
P.A.S.S. – The Professional Audience Safety System is another patented Pangolin technology that is used to help ensure the safety of audience scanning style laser shows. PASS is a highly specialized circuit that monitors the health of all critical systems in a laser projector. PASS performs real-time monitoring of all key projector systems and is able to instantly terminate laser emissions if it detects any unsafe condition. All of the systems within PASS were designed such that there is redundancy. Which means that there are always at least two circuits monitoring any condition (power supply, light level, scanner dynamics, and system logic). For maximum reliability, each of these “at least two circuits” are implemented in different ways, thus, making it extraordinarily unlikely that both circuits would fail in exactly the same way at exactly the same time. And the output of these circuits are polled, such that all circuits must agree that there is a safe condition, in order for PASS to allow light to emit from the projector. If any parameter is unsafe, or if a monitoring circuit within PASS fails, it will go into a safe mode where laser light ceases. In fact, PASS will maintain safety even in the face of five simultaneous system failures. Due to strict enforcement of laser safety regulations in the United States, PASS has become the industry-standard solution for those who wish to perform audience scanning laser light shows in America. In addition, due to it’s extraordinary success in keeping audience scanning laser shows safe in the United States, it is also becoming a standard in many other parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia. PASS can be integrated into specific laser projectors, by those companies which Pangolin has trained and approved to integrate PASS.
For more information on PASS certified integrators, and how to get a laser projector with PASS inside, please contact us here at Pangolin.
Additional Steps you can take, to learn about laser safety
This report is not the “end all, be all” guide to laser safety. It is merely a guide, providing you with additional information and resources, which you can use to help ensure you are performing shows in a safe manner.
In addition to this report, we would strongly urge anyone performing laser light shows, to take a laser safety operator course. Contact us here at Pangolin and we can help you find the appropriate courses to take, to become a laser safety officer.
We would also like to note, that if you have any questions about laser safety, Pangolin Safety Products, or the industry in general, please feel free to contact us at anytime. We value the relationships we have with our clients, and will always be happy to help you.
An additional video that covers the topics presented in this report can be found here: