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IN ART, NEW TECHNOLOGY

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The basic health and safety considerations linked with the usage of lasers, neon sculpture, and computers in the arts are discussed in this article. Creative artists frequently operate in close proximity to technology and in novel ways. This scenario is far too common, and it greatly raises the danger of damage. The main considerations are eye and skin protection, as well as lowering the risk of electrical shock and avoiding harmful chemical exposure.

Lasers

By both direct seeing and reflection, laser radiation can be harmful to artists’ and spectators’ eyes and skin. The severity of laser injury is determined by the power of the laser. Higher-power lasers have a higher risk of serious injury and dangerous reflections. Manufacturers classify and identify lasers into classes I through IV. Class I lasers pose no risk of laser radiation, while Class IV lasers are extremely harmful.

Artists have used many types of lasers in their work, with visible wavelengths being the most common. Aside from the standard safety features of any laser system, artistic applications necessitate additional considerations.

It is critical to protect the audience from direct beam contact and scattered radiation in laser exhibits by employing plastic or glass enclosures and opaque beam stops. It is vital to keep direct beam or reflected laser radiation at Class I levels where the audience is exposed in planetariums and other indoor light displays. Laser radiation levels of class III or IV must be kept at a safe distance from performers and the audience. When an operator controls the laser, the typical distance is 3 m, and without continuous operator control, the distance is 6 m. Set-up, alignment, and testing of Class III and IV lasers require written procedures. For Class IV lasers, required safety controls include warnings prior to activating the lasers, key controls, fail-safe safety interlocks, and manual reset buttons. Laser goggles designed for Class IV lasers should be worn.

Scanning laser art displays, which are popular in the performing arts, use fast-moving beams that are generally safer because unintended eye or skin contact with the beam is brief. Operators must still take precautions to ensure that exposure limits are not exceeded if the scanning equipment fails. Outdoor displays cannot allow aircraft to fly past dangerous beam levels, such as the illumination of tall buildings with radiation levels more than Class I, or employees in high-reach equipment.

Holography is the process of employing lasers to create a three-dimensional image of an object. The majority of images are displayed off-axis from the laser beam, therefore intrabeam viewing is rarely a problem. Injury can be reduced by using a clear display casing around the hologram. Some artists utilise their holograms to produce permanent images, and many of the chemicals used in the development process are dangerous and must be monitored to avoid accidents. Pyrogalic acid, alkalis, sulphuric and hydrobromic acids, bromine, parabenzoquinone, and dichromate salts are among them. Most of these compounds can be replaced with safer alternatives.

Lasers also pose significant non-radiological risks. The majority of high-performance lasers operate at high voltages and amperages, posing significant dangers of electrocution, particularly during the design and maintenance stages. Hazardous compounds are used as the active lasing medium in dye lasers, and high-powered lasers can produce toxic aerosols, especially when the beam contacts a target.

Art with Neon

Neon art creates luminous sculptures by using neon tubes. One application is advertising with neon signage. Bending leaded glass to the correct shape, blasting the evacuated glass tube with a high voltage to remove impurities, and adding small amounts of neon gas or mercury are all steps in making a neon sculpture. To produce the luminous effect, a high voltage is placed across electrodes sealed into each end of the tube. This excites the gases trapped inside the tube. The glass tube can be covered with fluorescent phosphors, which convert ultraviolet radiation from mercury or neon into visible light, to get a larger range of colours. Step-up transformers are used to attain the high voltages.

When the sculpture is linked to its blasting transformer to remove impurities from the glass tube, or to its electrical power supply for testing or display, electrical shock is a risk (figure 96.4). The electrical current that passes through the glass tube also produces ultraviolet light, which interacts with the phosphor-coated glass to produce colours. Because some near-ultraviolet radiation (UVA) may get through the glass and cause eye damage to individuals nearby, UVA-blocking eyewear should be worn.