What is an LPA, and why do I need one?

If you are buying a laser machine from AW3 (Allwhite Laser), one of the things the representative will tell you is that you will need a contract with a Laser Protection Advisor – as the name suggests, someone who’s a qualified expert in laser safety, and whose job is to advise you, the laser user, about safety.  You may be wondering why that’s necessary, when after all, you have had all the required training from the laser supplier.

The shortest and simplest answer to that question is, “because it’s a legal requirement.”  Like any hazardous piece of equipment, lasers are covered by safety rules and regulations.  The UK’s laser safety requirements are based on an international guide which is used globally as a basic standard for how to use lasers safely in the workplace.  This is known (for short) as the “User’s Guide.” The UK’s Artificial Optical Radiation Directive (a law which refers to artificial light sources) specifically directs us to follow the User’s Guide when using lasers.  And the User’s Guide says that laser users MUST HAVE, firstly, an LPA – someone who is an expert in laser safety and can advise them about how to manage the risks – and secondly, someone at the workplace whose role is to make sure that the LPA’s advice is followed.  More about that role in a future article!

OK, you may be thinking – but who’s checking?  Well, if you are in Wales or Northern Ireland, there is a regulatory body with which you must register before you can use a laser at your clinic – and both of these (HIW and RQIA respectively) will insist on seeing evidence that you have an arrangement with an LPA.  In England it’s not quite so straightforward – you will need a Special Treatment Licence from your Local Authority (County or Borough) and LPA support will be a condition of that, but not all Local Authorities are quite as on top of the situation as others.

So, what if you are in one of those boroughs that aren’t well regulated?  Can you get away with not having an LPA?  I like to use the analogy of driving a car in a 30MPH speed limit.  There may not be a traffic officer watching you as you drive through at 50 – but it’s a dangerous thing to do, and if there is an accident, you will be in serious trouble if you were not obeying the speed limit.  In your clinic’s case, it means that, for example, your insurance may be invalid, or you may be vulnerable to lawsuits if your client has an adverse reaction and you were going against the guidelines by not having LPA support.

And even if you could get away with it – should you?  30MPH speed limits are there for a reason – and so is the requirement for an LPA.  Did you know that laser eyewear must be rated to withstand a direct hit from your laser for at least five full seconds?  Do you know how to read the markings on your goggles to make sure that yours meet the requirement?  But wait, you say – surely the manufacturer will send me the correct goggles with my machine?  Not necessarily.  Some manufacturers may cut corners – others may be based in, for example, the USA, where the standards are different.  A goggle which is legal in the USA will not meet the UK standard.  There are all sorts of little odds and ends that you might not know about, or might not think about (did you know lasers can start fires?  Did you remove your wall mirror, but forget about your shiny chrome rubbish bin?)

An LPA will do a thorough risk assessment of your treatment area and explain what you need to do to make it as safe as it can be.  They will also be available afterwards to answer your questions if anything changes, or if you are worried about a particular safety issue.  Make sure your LPA has a valid qualification from RPA-2000 or the ALSP, and expect them to want to see your treatment room – either in person or virtually – and probably to ask you quite a lot of questions!  But don’t worry – they are on your side.  They’re just trying to make sure everything is safe, and that your regulatory authority is happy with you.

Dr Anna Bass- Lasermet- Laser Safety Solutions