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AILU group formed to address unsafe tabletop laser machines

The availability of unsafe, low-cost tabletop laser machines without valid certification is a fairly widespread problem in the UK, according to Andy Toms of TLM Laser. Greg Blackman speaks to Toms on the formation of an AILU special interest group that aims to increase awareness of the issue

A laser safety Special Interest Group (SIG) has been established by the Association of Laser Users (AILU) in the UK that aims to increase awareness about the sale of unsafe desktop laser machines. The SIG was formed on 6 November. It will initially produce a set of key questions that potential purchasers of laser machines should ask equipment suppliers to determine whether the system complies with safety regulations.

The group is trying to increase awareness of laser safety by asking those purchasing laser machines to question what they are buying. The group is targeting non-CE compliant laser machines, which tend to be, although are not always, low-cost tabletop systems imported without valid certification.

According to Andy Toms, director of TLM Laser and chair of the group, large manufacturing companies are less susceptible to purchasing unsafe equipment; it is schools and colleges, and small-to-medium sized businesses with a limited budget that are more prone to buying unsafe laser machines.

And, in Toms’ opinion, the problem of unsafe machines is fairly widespread: ‘It’s reasonable to say that I’ve come across systems even in schools that don’t comply [to CE regulations].’

‘There’s a lot of stuff [laser machines] that comes [into the UK] that doesn’t comply with any legislation whatsoever, even though it proclaims to,’ he added. ‘It’s not tested, it’s not CE-compliant, and it’s evident from the setup.’ TLM Laser, based in Bromsgrove, UK, provides laser machines and systems.

The types of questions the AILU group will advise laser users to ask suppliers include: is the system interlocked, does it have an emergency-stop facility, and is the technical construction file available to view? If they system doesn’t meet the criteria it probably doesn’t comply with the legislation. ‘We’re basically trying to get people to question what they’re buying before they commit to it,’ said Toms.

‘Just having a CE label on it, doesn’t necessarily mean it is compliant,’ he added. ‘Anybody could put a CE label on something; doesn’t mean they’ve done the testing.’

‘The problem is that the people who are being attracted to [low-cost, unsafe laser machines] are at the low end of the market, where they’ve got limited budgets and ultimately somebody’s going to get injured, killed or maimed, eventually, because some of the stuff is downright dangerous,’ Toms stated.

The AILU initiative was born out of conversations between Toms and Dean Carpenter, director of Laserite, who were concerned about the proliferation of unsafe tabletop laser processing machines, especially when users were buying them who were largely unaware of the potential hazards these machines present. According to Toms, laser technology has now come down in price to the point where small business can afford the machines.

The AILU group will initially target the education establishment and also lobby insurance companies, as, according to Toms, there are many implications of using unsafe laser systems from an insurance viewpoint. Insurers should start asking questions about whether the company uses lasers in the production of their product, Toms said.

Along with laser safety, a separate issue the AILU group is focusing on is ensuring machines have proper extraction facilities, which, according to Toms, is a secondary hazard with laser processing and is often overlooked.

Toms advised those looking to purchase laser machines but were unsure as to what to ask suppliers, to use the experience available at AILU to make sure the system is safe.

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