Getting the Most from Your Laser Safety Training and Healthcare Staff Laser Education Program

Getting the Most from Your Laser Safety Training and Healthcare Staff Laser Education Program

By: Leslie J. Pollard, BSMT, LEOT, CMLSO (Reg. # 6930)

Today, working with medical laser systems (Class 3b and Class 4 lasers) is a common practice in medical/ surgical facilities, physician offices, medical spa facilities and veterinary schools / hospitals. The technology associated with medical/ surgical lasers applies the science of biophotonics which is the application of photochemistry and the use of new medical / surgical techniques to treat and repair a variety of medical conditions and diseases. However, working with these lasers can be dangerous to operators, patients, and staff members. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Association), CCOSH (Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety) , IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) 60825, AS NZS 2211-1990 (Australian/ New Zealand Occupational Health and Safety Laser Safety Standards), AORN (American Operating Room Nurses Association) Best Practices, JC (Joint Commission), AAAHC (Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care), and many U.S. State regulators, annual laser safety training and safety practices must be made available and practiced by all medical and surgical staff members working in or near the laser environment.

Traditionally, all medical and surgical staff laser training has been accomplished by utilizing an on site laser safety training approach. This requires access to the credentialed presenter's expertise and the use of valuable medical/surgical team meeting or educational time. Today, surgical staff members can access basic aspects of laser safety training designed for the medical or surgical setting by means of utilizing an appropriately designed online or Internet based teaching program. Special considerations for your choice of an online Internet based Laser Safety Program for your staff should include assurance that the course contents and the time required to complete the program(s) are appropriate for the laser related responsibility level of the attendees. For example, a course containing material appropriate for the general staff annual laser safety update should require approximately an hour to complete. Some laser training programs that attempt to cover multiple responsibility/ requirement levels simultaneously create confusion and ineffective use of staff time. Laser training programs that are not modular in nature can require common content to continually be repeated for each training component or level of advancement without content coordination. As the level of responsibility of the individual within the laser program increases (i.e. laser operator or Medical Laser Safety Officer) higher levels of education and training are required. This requires a corresponding increase in time and material dedicated to the learning process. An efficient and effective format for this process can easily involve the use of carefully planned and coordinated online or Internet based educational training.

Choosing a component based comprehensive laser learning program that is modular in nature with both online and onsite offerings is a wise and logical approach to achieve laser educational and training compliance goals for your facility. The facility can choose to access only the basic required aspects for general staff laser safety training or choose a more comprehensive approach for staff training that requires more advanced tools and information due to increased responsibilities within the program. Advantages to choosing this type of modular based laser training foundation includes access to a continuity of accurate and fundamental information in staff training, makeing yearly staff update training easier and less expensive, provides "just in time" training access options, and can provide assurance that staff is trained properly and cohesively while promoting a team approach to the laser safety program. More advanced training or hands on operational training will usually involve some aspect of on site and instructor interaction for competency based documentation.

The four most commonly requested training components for medical or surgical laser facility staff members are:

  • Basic Laser Physics & Safety for Annual Staff Update (yearly competencies for all staff members)
  • Medical Laser Operator Training (Laser Operators)
  • Medical Laser Safety Officers and Delegates Training (MLSO Trainees)
  • NT Surgical Laser Safety Training (ENT laser surgeons, anesthesia personnel, RN coordinators, ENT RN perioperative staff members, ENT surgical technicians)

Basic Laser Physics & Safety Course (OSHA Based): All staff members working within an environment that offers Class 3b and Class 4 lasers should complete the Basic Laser Physics & Safety Course that will meet annual training requirements for any state or national Occupation Health standard. This program is the fundamental training program and can be offered to staff members through an on line format. The successful completion of this course material should be documented and filed with the Medical Laser Safety Officer staff training files, educational department files, or required OSHA or other national Occupational Health Department training files. Basic medical/ surgical laser safety training program contents should be based on content required or recommended by federal, state, local, and the specific facility. Core concepts that should be covered for any medical/ surgical laser safety program should include laser physics basics, introductory laser biophysics or tissue response, laser applications, laser safety concerns, and basic laser safety practices.

Medical Laser Operator Training: Training for the medical laser operator requires the successful completion of a core basic laser physics and safety course. Additionally, a didactic course (on line format recommended) that covers the responsibilities and behaviors expected of the medical/ surgical laser operator is recommended in addition to a hands on lab component that offers a competency based operational skills workshop for each device that the operator will be responsible for independently operating.

Medical Laser Safety Officer Training Course: The medical laser safety officer training should continue from the above described course material with an additional component that involves an interactive classroom setting that not only provides the knowledge and analytical tools necessary to function as an effective MLSO, but also a component to practice the tools and problem solving skills necessary by means of discussion and role playing of actual scenarios involving lasers and related unanticipated events.

ENT Laser Safety Training: A special training program should be required of staff which provides the unique educational training necessary for those staff members and physicians involved with ENT laser applications. ENT laser surgical procedures inject a high level of risk to the patient when the surgical team is not trained to work together to recognize and mitigate the unique fire risk factors that are present during these procedures. This course is easily accomplished as a didactic or on line course. Access to this course should first require successful completion of the core "Basic Laser Physics & Safety" course for all staff members. For surgical facilities, this didactic ENT Laser Safety Course should be followed by an appropriate hands on preceptorship with an experienced ENT laser safety trained operator or Medical Laser Safety Officer.

Facilities that work with mobile laser providers working with ENT laser surgical procedures should require the mobile provider technician to show successful completion of the same or similar educational training course.

Some medical/ surgical laser education and safety courses offer the additional advantage of providing nursing contact hours. Facilities should be provided the option of accessing the course material with or without nursing contact hours, if nursing contact hours are offered. Additionally, easy access to the program administrator and author are valuable features to be aware of.

All laser training programs should be based on core reference materials and presented and prepared by instructors with a strong educational background in laser healthcare, laser and optics technology, advanced medical and surgical laser applications as well as extensive experience as a Health System Medical Laser Safety Officer with certification (CMLSO) through the Board of Laser Safety. The online course instructor or onsite presenter should also be well versed in the various state laser safety laws and regulations as well as state medical board practices that address specific training requirements and/or delegation of authority rules and guidelines.

Using a modular based laser training format provides the option to choose the portions of the training that best meets the immediate needs of the staff, with the option of building on that educational foundation base for other staff members. The Comprehensive Modular Program approach is designed to provide the ability to achieve all goals towards a natural progression of documentable training, credentialing, and educational program goals and content. Determining the needs of medical or surgical laser training should be approached on the basis of a properly applied needs assessment based on specific facility laser applications, laser safety best practice guidelines, federal laser safety guidelines, and state/ local laser regulations and educational standards.

Supporting the laser safety program requires the support of the entire surgical team and is based on continuity of care, education, and training. Internet based on line training programs and on site programs that complement the on line programs should offer the facility and staff member's access to a cohesive series of interactive modular training programs based on established rules, regulations, guidelines, and sound practices. The Internet based programs should offer the facility convenience, educational continuity, group accessibility ease, and a close partnership with the facility and goals for building a safe, effective, and cost effective laser safety program.

Once facilities initiate the comprehensive staff training programs, continual yearly educational updates and new staff hire training on basic course material accessible through an on line format become a very attractive, cost effective, and efficient process.

About the Author:

Leslie J. Pollard BSMT LEOT CMLSO

Leslie Pollard is a professional medical/ surgical laser education specialist. As BLS Certified Laser Safety Officer, (CMLSO), Leslie holds a B.S in Medical Technology, and Associates in Laser Electro Optics Technology. She has over 18 year experience in the surgical operating room, over 20 years in medical/ surgical laser education, with concentrations in minimally invasive surgical technologies and surgical approaches. She currently owns and operates Southwest Innovative Solutions, Inc. a successful private consulting group dedicated to providing effective and affordable modular on line and on site educational programs to perioperative staff and physicians in surgical facilities, physician offices, and professionally owned medical spas. She is a member of the Laser Institute of America (currently assisting in the development of Best Practices for Medical Laser Safety Officers), American Society for Lasers and Medicine, and an invited speaker and content development advisor for the 2011 International Laser Safety Conference.

Contact SIS, Inc. or Leslie at or call 214.850.3302