Unlike working with the usual stage lights such as LEDs or moving lights, setting up and using lasers has more of a setup process.
In this post, we’re going to cover the basics of how to use lasers in your lighting both legally and safely.
If you’re considering using laser in your lighting, it may feel overwhelming with the rules and regulations. But as we walk through these steps I hope you’ll find that it is a simple process and well worth while when wanting to add more dynamics to your lighting setup.
For more specific laser safety instructions, you can check out XLASER’s Training videos.
Obtaining a Variance
In the US, the first step of legally being able to use and operate lasers is obtaining a variance from the FDA. If you’re serious about adding lasers to your lighting rig, then obtaining a variance is required.
A variance is basically a driver’s license for operating lasers. It shows, that you know and understand how to operate lasers in a safe manner. Now, this does not mean that you can break the rules or start using laser improperly. Just as you would driving a vehicle, this means you understand how to follow the rules and accept responsibility for operating them.
To obtain a variance can be a complicated process. Personally, I recommend using XLASER as they do offer lasers with a package to help the variance application for relatively a low price.
Variances can take a year for people to get their variances but when I used XLASER, I was approved in 8 weeks…including Christmas break!. They kept it simple and handled everything for me, saving me time and frustration.
Once you have your variance in hand, now it’s time to clearly establish the rules of working with lasers.
Rule #1 – You never want to point lasers up to the sky, people’s eyes, or even into any type of camera.
When planning out your lighting set up, draw out where your lasers will be setup at and where they will be pointing. The general rule of thumb is to keep the lasers 3 meters or 9 feet from any surface that an audience member could potentially stand. This will help you establish some clear boundaries to keep your audience and team members safe.
When using lasers, it’s a good practice to make sure your team members understand and know the rules of how to use and operate lasers. It helps that they understand the safety plan of using lasers.
Using Lasers Safely
Once you have your variance in hand and a plan of where the lasers will be setup and pointing, it’s now time to actually setup the lasers. Just as you would with any lighting equipment you want to install and set the lasers up properly.
There are safety measures and procedures that will offer multiple ways of being able to shut down your lasers immediately if needed. To learn more about these different methods, be sure to refer to the XLASER Training videos.
It’s important to have these safety measures in place and to also be sure that the safety zones are being respected by your team and audience members.
Laser Warning Signs
The last item of this brief safety overview, is to have laser warning signs set up and ready to use if or when necessary.
As you might have noticed with larger productions there are signs posted about fog effects or strobe lights. The same would go for using lasers in you’re lighting. It may not always be required but it’s a good rule of thumb to just let your audience know ahead of time that lasers are going to be used.
Another good practice is that with those on stage, you want to be sure to have signs or zones marked off on where nobody should be standing. This will help those on stage understand the boundaries and keep them safe.