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Infrared Radiation (IR)

Last updated: November 30, 2020

What Does Infrared Radiation (IR) Mean?

Infrared radiation (IR), also called infrared light, is a form of electromagnetic (EM) radiation. The infrared spectrum has a wavelength between 700 nanometers and 1 millimeter. It sits adjacent to the visible light spectrum but has longer wavelengths, lower frequencies, and lower photon energy than visible light.

The portion of the infrared spectrum closest to the visible spectrum is called “near infrared,” and it's adjacent to the part of the EM spectrum that humans perceive as red-colored light. The portion of the infrared spectrum closest to the microwave spectrum is called “far infrared.” Far infrared radiation is the portion of the infrared spectrum that produces the most heat and is responsible for much of the heat created by sunlight.

Safeopedia Explains Infrared Radiation (IR)

Infrared radiation is used in a variety of occupational contexts, including thermal imaging and heat sensing, wireless transmissions, and fiber optics. An understanding of IR is important for knowing how to manage heat. IR is essentially heat radiation, and the hotter an object, the more IR it emits. All objects with temperatures above near-absolute zero degrees Kelvin emit IR as heat.

IR is a type of non-ionizing radiation, which means it does not have the ability to remove electrons from atoms and therefore lacks the toxic biological potential of various forms of IR (e.g., gamma radiation, X-ray radiation). The primary exposure hazard associated with IR is the heat that it generates, which can cause burns (e.g., from fire) or various heat-exposure-related problems (e.g., heatstroke). Exposure to IR may also cause discomfort (an ergonomic hazard) if it is experienced as a single point of heat in an environment that is otherwise much cooler.

Other than the hazards associated with heat or fire, IR generally does not create significant occupational hazards. The exception is sustained exposure to specialized equipment that emits significant IR (such as the heat lamps used in incubators) or extended work that requires exposure to a source of high heat such as glass working. In these cases, there is a risk of optical damage—short-term exposure can cause eye irritation, while prolonged exposure to IR can cause the slow formation of cataracts. Significant IR exposure may also cause retinal damage. In cases where optical damage is a risk, the use of personal protective eyewear by workers is required as part of an employer's general duty to ensure a safe workplace.

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Synonyms

Infrared Light

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