Laser Lighting Effects

Date: 06.03.2018     Last updated: 30.04.2018 at 13.15
Display lasers are used to create dramatic effects and are especially popular for staged entertainment shows.

This guidance assumes that a specialist laser display company is contracted to provide the equipment and the operators. The BBC role is to ensure that a competent contractor has been selected, that they have robust plans to manage the display and that those plans are put into effect. You do not have to have any expertise in Lasers to be able to manage the specialist contractor.

Wherea show with display lasers being used is not under BBC control, it is extremely important to ensure that all crew, who could be working on or close to the stage are protected from any harm and/or injury.See ‘Division Specific Issues’ for further guidance.

What Can Go Wrong?

  • All display lasers are very powerful and even at distances of hundreds of metres can cause permanent damage to the eyes. The back of the eye can be burned before you can blink. The burn may often be small and pass unnoticed but cumulative exposure will cause progressively greater damage to vision. Significant eye damage can occur from a single exposure.
  • Even small burns can sometimes cause permanent damage. In a worst case they can cause devastating and permanent eye damage. The distance over which a laser can cause eye damage is called the Nominal Occular Hazard Distance (NOHD).
  • Display laser energy is so powerful that reflections from, for example, satin finish metal are still hazardous. 
  • Fire
  • Distraction/Dazzling of  to Drivers and Pilots
  • Damage to sensitive electronics in Cameras

Legal/BBC Requirements

  • The BBC does not permit the intentional projection of lasers onto audience members "audience scanning". 
  • Display companies may ask you to permit the use of "diffracted" beams to "scan" audiences. The BBC does not accept that there is a reliable way of ensuring that the level of diffracted light is safe, so we do not permit this.

Control Measures

Before the Event

  • Select a company from the pre-vetted list
  • Provide them with as much information about the event and the venue as you can. Update them as details change.
  • We expect them to comply with the guidance in the HSE document HSG(95) they should be familiar with that guidance and should tell you if in any respect they can't meet it and what alternative arrangements they put in place.

Obtain a copy of their risk assessment and ensure that it contains as a minimum:

  • Name of the Laser Safety Officer
  • Make and Model of the Laser
  • Its power when operating normally
  • its power when operating at Low Power
  • Whether it is Continuous or Pulsed. If Pulsed then they should include the pulse characteristics
  • Wavelength(s)
  • Nominal Occular Hazard Distance (NOHD)
  • Beam width and divergence
  • A statement saying that the LSO should be in charge of the display
  • A description of the nature of the event, the venue, the arrangement of the stage, the way the lasers will be rigged and the audience.
  • A description of how different people could be exposed to the hazard - for example the laser company personnel, the audience, the performers, the production crew.
  • The measures to prevent lasers and mirrors being accidentally disturbed
  • A drawing or diagram showing the clearance of the laser display above and to the sides of the audience. This should be at least 3m vertically and 2.5m horizontally from every audience position. (in practice 2.5m horizontally and 1m above the head of a person who is standing).

There should be a clear and explicit statement by the laser company that they understand that audience scanning is not to take place.

  • Send the risk assessment to BBC Safety and ask us to review it.
  • Check that the display company has all the information that they require from the venue and producer and that they have enough time to rig (and de-rig) the display and to rehearse it with the venue unoccupied and, where relevant, with performers. Ideally arrange a meeting between them
  • You do not need to take detailed measurements of the power of the laser or worry about its "Class". All display lasers are powerful enough to cause virtually instantaneous eye damage.

At the set-up / rehearsal and again at the event

  • Check that nothing has changed - or if it has that those changes have been recorded.
  • Ask to see the display and check that there is at least  3m clearance above seating and 2.5m to the side of audience positions.
  • Confirm that any camera positions on stage or in front of the stage edge (i.e. on a pit track) are not affected by the laser display, or could have an impact upon the display (i.e. via surface reflections).
  • Ensure all crew are briefed accordingly.

Division Specific Issues

Where a show with display lasers being used is not under BBC control, at the laser set-up/rehearsal and again prior to the event ensure that:

  • Any camera positions on stage or in front of the stage edge (i.e. on a pit track or  mounted on a ‘jimmy jib’) are reviewed to determine if they could be affected by the laser display or could have an impact upon the display (i.e. via surface reflections).
  • Take into account any other camera positions that may be affected – front of house and hoist cameras, for example.
  • Ensure all crew are briefed accordingly.
  • Display companies may be using diffracted beams to "scan" an audience, which has been agreed between the display company and the show organiser.
  • It is extremely important to ensure that the level of diffracted light is safe within the areas that our crew maybe working. The levels of diffracted light must be measured and confirmed by a Laser Safety Officer.
  • Note that damage to sensitive electronics in cameras can still occur with diffracted laser beams.

FAQs/Did You Know?

  • A display laser can damage your eyes in a fraction of a second. 

 Safety Guides - Quick Links

About this site

This site describes what the BBC does in relation to managing its health, safety and security risks and is intended for those who work directly for the BBC.

It is not intended to provide instruction or guidance on how third parties should manage their risks. The BBC cannot be held liable for how this information is interpreted or used by third parties, nor provide any assurance that adopting it would provide any measure of legal compliance. More information.


Links: Some links on this site are only accessible when connected to the BBC network