Laser Safety Basics

What comes to mind when you hear, “laser safety?” If you think of complex rules and red tape, you gotta think again. Here's a helpful guide on laser safety and compliance so you can safely and easily add lasers to your rig.

What are the basics of laser safety?

In general, the 3 rules of operating high-powered lasers are: 

1. Do not shoot lasers AT people.

In the U.S., laser users must keep the lowest laser beams about 3 meters (10 feet) above the floor, to create a few feet of clearance between a tall person and the bottom of the laser display. Laterally (side to side), a 2.5 meter (about 8 feet) clearance is required.

laser safety height

You'll also want to make sure that at any point in your show, the laser beams are not hitting:

  • Mirrors
  • Cameras or camera lenses
  • Windows
  • Otherwise reflective or flammable surfaces

Proper zoning and alignment are crucial to this aspect, and X-Laser's Mercury laser control system makes laser zoning from a lighting console quick, easy and reliable.

2. NEVER allow laser beams to enter airspace. 

Laser beams striking aircraft can blind pilots.

laser at airplane windshield

Basically, lasers are “NOT FOR EYES, NOT FOR SKIES.”

If you want to “crowd scan” or intentionally shoot lasers at people, different countries have different rules. In the United States, limiting audience scanning to what is called MPE (maximum permitted exposure) levels is the law, and is enforced. We can help you determine MPE for your show, and make sure your hardware is suitable for audience scanning.

3. Have a reliable means of stopping the laser

This is required by U.S. law and is in general a best practice. It means that the laser operator has at least a base level of training to be able to run the laser safely, and that certain procedures for setup and alignment/zoning are observed.

What's this laser variance thing I keep hearing about? Do I need one?

Yes. 95% of our clients (rentals included) will need a laser light show variance regardless of what “your buddy” told you. We rigorously follow U.S. law for our protection and yours. If you think you don’t need a variance, please contact us and we will happily render an impartial opinion, as very specific circumstances exist where a variance is not necessary.

For those who need a variance, we have made getting one super easy. First-time users have the option of purchasing an EZ Variance Kit access code. You can then go onto our website, fill out the quick form, digitally sign the documents, and then we take care of the rest for you.

Our EZ Variance process is easy, safe and totally secure. The FDA approves most variances within 4 weeks and 99% of our users' variances are approved.

Is it safe to use high-powered lasers outdoors?

Usually, yes. First, you need to make sure that your laser hardware can handle being outdoors. Few lasers today are fully IP65 rated, so having a proper weatherproof encasement or covering will help. It also helps to not leave the laser(s) outside all day or night.

The second part of this answer is for U.S. laser users. If you are outside of the U.S., please check your local laws.

The short answer is that if you want to do an outdoor show in the United States, check with your local FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) field office to see what they recommend. Be honest with them about what you want to do and they will point you in the right direction.

In the U.S., there are two kinds of outdoor shows: terminated (where all of the beams stop on a tent, or the side of a barn, etc.) and unterminated (where the beams either by design or even by accident might shoot up into the sky). The real issue with unterminated beam shows is that they might hit airplanes (as pointed out above).

The FAA can approve or disapprove all outdoor laser shows, and they will enforce these regulations with big fines for violators.

Realistically, will a laser hurt someone?

According to data from the FDA, Rockwell Laser Industries, and the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency, there are no known cases of accidental injury from Class 3A (IIIR), 3B (IIIB) or 4 (IV) laser beams emanating from properly built and FDA-certified projectors used in an entertainment setting.

Are there cases where someone has intentionally injured themselves or someone else? Yes, very few. Are there cases of injuries from very high-powered entertainment lasers? Yes, a few and mostly undocumented. Is it possible to injure someone with a 3A/3B/4 laser system? Yes, and that is why we preach safety and the importance of having properly built lasers at every turn.

We are proud to make laser products certified to exceed the world’s most stringent standards of performance and safety. We feel that with a little education and a reasonable amount of attention to safety that it should be possible for virtually anyone to operate an X-Laser system safely and legally.


For more detail on the above answers and tips on getting started using high-powered lasers, check out our detailed FAQ.



Write a comment

Comments are moderated