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Laser Classification

deep blue DPSS  laserAll lasers are classified by the manufacturer and labeled with the appropriate warning labels. Any modification of an existing laser or an unclassified laser must be classified by the Laser Safety Officer prior to use. The following criteria are used to classify lasers:

Wavelength. If the laser is designed to emit multiple wavelengths the classification is based on the most hazardous wavelength.

For continuous wave (CW) or repetitively pulsed lasers the average power output (Watts) and limiting exposure time inherent in the design are considered.

For pulsed lasers the total energy per pulse (Joule), pulse duration, pulse repetition frequency and emergent beam radiant exposure are considered.


The standard governing the safety of laser products in Europe (EN) and Internationally (IEC), was substantially revised in 2001 and the classification system was modified. Three new laser classes (1M, 2M and 3R) were created and Class 3A was removed. A brief description of each of the current laser classes follows.


 Current Classification System

 Class 1 Lasers

This class is eye-safe under all operating conditions.

 Class 1M Lasers

This class is safe for viewing directly with the naked eye, but may be hazardous to view with the aid of optical instruments. In general, the use of magnifying glasses increases the hazard from a widely-diverging beam (eg LEDs and bare laser diodes), and binoculars or telescopes increase the hazard from a wide, collimated beam (such as those used in open-beam telecommunications systems).

Radiation in classes 1 and 1M can be visible, invisible or both.

 Class 2 Lasers

These are visible lasers. This class is safe for accidental viewing under all operating conditions. However, it may not be safe for a person who deliberately stares into the laser beam for longer than 0.25 seconds, by overcoming their natural aversion response to the very bright light.

 Class 2M Lasers

These are visible lasers. This class is safe for accidental viewing with the naked eye, as long as the natural aversion response is not overcome as with Class 2, but may be hazardous (even for accidental viewing) when viewed with the aid of optical instruments, as with class 1M.

Radiation in classes 2 and 2M is visible, but can also contain an invisible element, subject to certain conditions.


 Classes 1M and 2M broadly replace the old class 3A under IEC and EN classification. Prior to the 2001 amendment there were also lasers which were Class 3B but were eye-safe when viewed without optical instruments. These lasers are Class 1M or 2M under the current Classification system.


 Class 3R Lasers

Radiation in this class is considered low risk, but potentially hazardous. The class limit for 3R is 5x the applicable class limit for Class 1 (for invisible radiation) or Class 2 (for visible radiation). Hence CW visible lasers emitting between 1 and 5 mW are normally Class 3R. Visible class 3R is similar to class IIIA in the US regulations.

 Class 3B Lasers

Radiation in this class is very likely to be dangerous. For a continuous wave laser the maximum output into the eye must not exceed 500mW. The radiation can be a hazard to the eye or skin. However, viewing of the diffuse reflection is safe.

 Class 4 Lasers

This is the highest class of laser radiation. Radiation in this class is very dangerous and viewing of the diffuse reflection may be dangerous. Class 4 laser beams are capable of setting fire to materials onto which they are projected.


 Any laser product of a given Class may contain 'embedded' lasers which are greater than the Class assigned to the product, but in these cases engineering controls (protective housings and interlocks) ensure that human access to radiation in excess of product Class is not possible. Notable examples of this are CD and DVD players which are Class 1 laser products while containing Class 3R or Class 3B lasers and laser printers which are Class 1 laser products but contain Class 4 embedded lasers.


 Note: for a product to be classified correctly, it must be tested at the maximum output accessible under reasonably foreseeable single-fault conditions (eg in the drive circuitry). A non-M class product must pass both Condition 1 and Condition 2 of Table 10 in IEC/EN 60825-1, and an M-class product (which by definition has failed either Condition 1 or 2) must pass the irradiance condition in the same table.


Old Classification System

Class I Lasers

These are lasers that are not hazardous for continuous viewing or are designed in such a way that prevent human access to laser radiation. These consist of low power lasers or higher power embedded lasers. (i.e. laser printers)

Class 2 Visible Lasers (400 to 700 nm)

Lasers emitting visible light which because of normal human aversion responses, do not normally present a hazard, but would if viewed directly for extended periods of time. (like many conventional light sources)

Class 2A Visible Lasers (400 to 700 nm)

Lasers emitting visible light not intended for viewing, and under normal operating conditions would not produce a injury to the eye if viewed directly for less than 1000 seconds. (i.e. bar code scanners)

Class 3a

Lasers that normally would not cause injury to the eye if viewed momentarily but would present a hazard if viewed using collecting optics (fibre optics loupe or telescope).

Class 3b

Lasers that present an eye and skin hazard if viewed directly. This includes both intrabeam viewing and specular reflections. Class 3b lasers do not produce a hazardous diffuse reflection except when viewed at close proximity.

Class 4 Lasers

Lasers that present an eye hazard from direct, specular and diffuse reflections. In addition such lasers may be fire hazards and produce skin burns.

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