Laser regulations (mostly relating to the USA)
In the United States, as well as many other countries (including Germany, the UK, Australia, France and Singapore), regulations are in place to ensure the safe operation of laser shows and those viewing them.
We’ll focus mostly on US regulations here, as they tend to be the most stringent. We also notice that some other countries follow the United States lead, when it comes to laser show safety.
In the United States, laser show projectors (and lasers in general) are regulated by the FDA and a subdivision called the CDRH (Center for Devices and Radiological Health). CDRH has been chartered by Congress to standardize the performance safety of all manufactured laser products entering into US commerce. All laser products that have been manufactured and entered into commerce, after August 2, 1976, must comply with their regulations.
For the laser light show industry, this means that in order to use a laser show projector in the United States (Class 3 or higher) the system must be certified with the CDRH (we call this a manufacturer’s variance) and in order to receive that certification, the laser must have the following basic safety system integrated:
- Interlock – A small device that needs to be connected, in order for the laser to turn on – Most professional lasers use a 3-pin XLR E-stop safety
- Key Switch – Just like it sounds… A key that is used to turn the laser on. Without the key, the laser will not
- Mechanical Shutter – This is a device inside the laser, which will block laser output if the content being projected is deemed to be unsafe. It’s normally positioned inside the laser, near the optical scanning system.
- Emission delay – This is a setting that prevents laser output from being projected upon the start of the system, for a few seconds. Intended to prevent a targeted laser beam, from accidentally hitting someone nearby.
In addition, the operator of the laser projector must also have a “license” to run his show. This is called an “operators variance” and just think of it like your license, to legally operate a laser show, in the United States.
When performing laser shows in the USA, you want to follow some basic guidelines as well, these include:
- Use compliant equipment – Make sure you are using a laser show projector that is certified and compliant in the United States. Some unethical companies out there, might claim they are selling you US certified. Do not just believe someone, because they tell you this. We have seen a lot of people have issues, by using non-compliant laser equipment. You can check to see if a laser projector is certified, by going to www.regulations.gov. You can look up that manufacturer’s variance, and then see if they are in fact selling compliant laser show projectors.
- Have a variance – You need to make sure when performing laser shows that you have a valid laser show variance, to operate Again, this is your “license” of sorts, to run a laser show in public, in the United States.
- The 3M rule – When projecting at an audience, keep the laser content 3meters above people’s DO NOT PROJECT LASERS INTO THE AUDIENCE, UNLESS YOU HAVE BEEN PROPERLY TRAINED, AND HAVE THE PROPER VARIANCES, CERTIFICATIONS AND EQUIPMENT TO DO SO.
- Outdoor shows – When doing an outdoor show, you must make sure your laser beams “terminate” (meaning they do not carry on into airspace, and are physically blocked by some kind of object – a wall, building, ).
Outdoor shows/Non-terminate beams – If you do an outdoor laser show, and you do not have your beams terminating, you must get prior approval from the FAA. This serves to protect pilots flying aircraft from unintended laser beams being protected at or towards them while flying.