All manufacturers of lasers used in the United States, must conform to regulations administered by the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDRH categorizes lasers as follows:
A laser or laser system which does not present a hazard to skin or eyes for any wavelength or exposure time. Exposure varies with wavelength. For ultraviolet, .2 to .4 μm exposure is less than from .8nW to .8 μW. Visible light exposure varies from .4 μW to 200 μW, and for near IR, the exposure is < 200 μw. Consult CDRH regulations for specific information.
Any visible laser with an output less than 1 mW of power. Warning label requirements — yellow caution label stating maximum output of 1 mW. Generally used as classroom lab lasers, supermarket scanners and laser pointers.
Any visible laser with an output over 1 mW of power with a maximum output of 5 mW of power. Warning label requirements — red danger label stating maximum output of 5 mW. Also used as classroom lab lasers, in holography, laser pointers, leveling instruments, measuring devices and alignment equipment.
Any laser with an output over 5 mW of power with a maximum output of 500 mW of power and all invisible lasers with an output up to 400 mW. Warning label requirements — red danger label stating maximum output. These lasers also require a key switch for operation and a 3.5-second delay when the laser is turned on. Used in many of the same applications as the Class III when more power is required.
Any laser with an output over 500 mW of power. Warning label requirements — red danger label stating maximum output. These lasers are primarily used in industrial applications such as tooling, machining, cutting and welding. Most medical laser applications also require these high-powered lasers.