Researcher under UV light

Ciandra Jackson

Light Safety, Heavy Consequences

Lab Safety

Researcher under UV light

Don’t go into the light (without proper safety precautions!)

We all remember the mom from the famous movie, Poltergeist, relentlessly instructing little Carol Anne to run towards the light in order to save herself from ghosts.  In that situation, the light saved Carol Anne’s life, but we all know Poltergeist is just a movie. In real life, different degrees of UV lights are commonly used in scientific research, and extreme UV light exposure is very destructive to the human body. Furthermore, for this edition of the Big Bang, I’ll discuss the various types of UV light and how to stay safe in the light without you going dark.

A brief breakdown of UV light

In order to determine how to stay safe around light, let’s first examine what UV light is. I sought help from good ole’ NASA, my go-to for all my scientific questions. According to them, Ultraviolet light is a form of radiation which is not visible to the human eye. It’s an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Radiation is present in many objects such as light bulbs, the sun, fire, and stars. Visible light runs from the familiar blue to green to yellow to orange to red. Red light is the least energetic of the colors of visible light, and blue is the most energetic.

Beyond the red end of the visible part of the spectrum lies the infrared and radio radiation. Infrared “light” is familiar to us as heat, while radio waves are used for TV and radio broadcasts.  Beyond the blue end of the visible spectrum lies ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma-rays.

Possible injuries associated with overexposure to UV lights

Because there is a gradual onset of symptoms, many overexposed people are unaware they’ve suffered a UV light injury…Remember the time when you went to the beach, stayed in the sun a little too long, and ended up looking like a lobster the next day?

  • Skin – UV radiation exposure can cause erythema (sunburn) and constant exposure is linked to melanoma
  • Eyes – UV radiation can injure the cornea and chronic exposure to acute high-energy UV light can cause cataracts

Safety protocols for light safety

As discussed in other Big Bang pieces, it is imperative for everyone working in the lab to be properly trained on all equipment. When it comes to working with diverse types of UV lights, there are special safety protocols to adhere to.

Interlock your lights

All equipment or areas where UV radiation is used must be adequately shielded and access covers, doors, etc., must be interlocked to prevent accidental exposure to UV or high voltage. “Interlocked” means if an interlock switch is tripped while the lamps are operating, they will be turned off and cannot be restarted without two reset actions. This prevents accidental exposure to UV or high voltage (Source:

Don’t do a “Carol Anne”

UV lights should never be viewed directly for any amount of time – Don’t do a Carol Anne…Needless UV exposure can be reduced if UV lights are used in designated areas with limited access by authorized and trained science lab staff.

Get down with PPE

Wear you PPE folks. There are a number of skin and eye protective agents provided by your EHS team. UV light PPE filters radiation and significantly prevents severe burns

Carol Anne was saved by the light and wonderful science discoveries were made because UV light was used in amazing ways; however, extreme UV light exposure is very harmful. In conclusion, whether you’re working with chemicals or infrared light, safety precautions remain the same.  Well, that’s it for this edition of the Big Bang. Until next time…Be well, stay safe and don’t run towards the light!