Much like any other workshop tool, when used properly a laser cutter/engraver is very safe, and our lasers are equipped with a number of safety features to ensure that risk to the user is as minimal as possible. A few of the potential hazards (and the safety features that protect the user) are listed below:
Laser Beam Hazards
CO2 lasers emit infrared radiation with a 10.6 micrometer wavelength, which is non-ionizing (it won't set off a Geiger counter) and is readily absorbed by skin as thermal energy. This is beneficial because it means that the human eye cannot act as a lens for CO2 laser light - small amounts of scattered light that hits the eye is simply converted into unnoticeably small amounts of heat, rather than being focused by the cornea into a potentially damaging beam.
However, while scattered light is therefore harmless, reflected or directed light from the laser tube is not at all so. The thermal energy in the laser beam could set anything flammable alight, and if it were to hit human skin it could cause extremely severe surface burns. This is why all but our largest industrial-scale laser cutters have a completely enclosed work area, and a safety cutoff switch that prevents the laser from firing while the lid is open.
We also supply CO2 laser safety glasses for complete personal eye protection.
The electrics in all of our laser cutters and engravers are completely contained within the cabinet, and most of our models include keyed locks to prevent direct access. However, if these physical barriers are bypassed, contact voltages inside the cabinet range from 24 volts to 35,000 volts, and are potentially lethal. While this does not pose a hazard to the typical user, it does mean that servicing must be done by qualified individuals.
All of our lasers are equipped with standard electrical safety mechanisms such as circuit breakers, physical insulators, and electrically grounded casings.
Both cutting and engraving with a laser beam is achieved via thermally vapourizing the material away - effectively burning it. The resulting fumes are a potential hazard depending on the material being burned. To minimize risk, all of our CO2 laser cutters and engravers come standard with fume extraction systems.
The beam of a CO2 laser will vapourize most materials without significant heating to the material, however some materials (such as acrylic) vapourize into fumes which are themselves flammable. This can, in some circumstances, result in small fire plumes.
Any fire can be extinguished nearly instantly by user intervention, and we strongly recommend that users keep their laser cutters clean and never leave the machine operating unattended to minimize fire risk. We also highly recommend that the room in which the laser cutter is housed follow standard fire safety procedure, including a heat-based fire detector, and fire extinguishers placed nearby.