1. Who are you?
I am R. DeWayne Holcomb, CLSO, CHP, Laser Safety Manager at the University of Texas at Austin.
2. What is your educational background?
I am a typical radiation safety professional who transitioned into the non-ionizing side of the job. I started my radiation safety career in the US Navy Nuclear Power Program as an Engineering Laboratory Technician. After the Navy, I worked as a Health Physics Technologist while completing my BS degree through Excelsior College. I was fortunate to work at a facility that required me to undertake safety evaluations for laser, radio frequency, microwave, and magnetic field devices. I began my laser safety work in 1988 at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
3. Where do you work?
One of the members of the newly formed Laser Safety Committee, H. Lee Seegmiller, was quite a safety bulldog. The committee chair, Dr. Steven Dunagan, would take time to assist me at many of the laser safety inspections we conducted in labs, aircraft, etc. These researchers, and the US Army Laser and RF/MW Course at Aberdeen, MD, were core influences on my view of laser safety. I also worked with Jamie King, the current LSO at Lawrence Livermore National Labs, at NASA in the 90’s. We were responsible for safety evaluations for research labs, aircraft laser emissions, giant wind tunnel laser setups, RF transmitters, and for the NASA Dryden facility at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. It was sink or swim, so we swam hard.
4. When did you start working with lasers?
I worked with Dewey Sprague at UC Berkeley for a couple of years, when their laser program was first getting started. Dewey had excellent practical focus for what was important in a safety program, and he applied it well to Laser Safety. This was about the time that Ken Barat and Dewey started promoting the Bay Area Laser Safety Officers group, and trying to initiate a laser safety certification process. Their prep work was handed over to the LIA, who created the CLSO program we now enjoy.
5. How did you become the LSO? Tell us about your experiences.
I took over as the LSO and Asst. RSO at a Honeywell subsidiary called Measurex around 2000, where I had to work through an FDA recall process. After working radiation protection jobs at the University of Cincinnati and the Fernald DOE facility, I eventually ended up at the University of Texas in 2004, and was given major responsibility in the laser program in 2010. I took the CLSO Exam in October of that year.
After years of radiation safety work with laser safety as a secondary role, it’s a nice change to be able to focus on laser safety. We have about 90 lead laser researchers, and about 450 class 3B and class 4 lasers.
The research university has a lot of challenges for EHS, and lasers in particular. If Radiation Safety is the black sheep of EHS, then Laser Safety is like the black sheep of Radiation Safety. This is not the case everywhere, but laser safety has been generally under-developed at many universities. This is more of a by-product of the university’s organization as compared to corporations and federal agencies, which have much more centralized control and funding. Plus, the university research spectrum is so wide, encompassing a little of everything, that a cookie cutter safety approach doesn’t work well. Practically every laser is doing something completely different from anyone else on campus—that’s what research is about. It is this very broad range of research that makes the work interesting.
6. How has becoming certified helped/benefited you in your career?
I believe that the CLSO process is important for anyone who will be making laser safety evaluations on a continuing basis. Just like other credentials, it implies a certain professional knowledge level, and demonstrates a commitment to the field of laser safety. (And you can’t really embellish or fabricate the CLSO on a resume—it is too easy to verify.)