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New Zealand: NZ restricts handheld lasers over 1 milliwatt

Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew announced on December 18 2013 that New Zealand’s government has passed new regulations on hand-held high-power laser pointers.

The regulations were based in part on public submissions made in response to a November 2012 Ministry of Health proposal. Submissions were received from organisations including retailers, government agencies, non-government organisations, professional associations, importers, the aviation industry, members of the public and other organisations with an interest in high-power laser pointers. Their suggestions were compiled in a 20-page document which helped guide the new regulations.

"High-power laser pointers can cause eye injuries, even blindness, and skin burns. ACC accepts around 10 claims a year for these injuries," says Mrs Goodhew.

"They can also cause temporary flash blindness, which poses a serious risk if the person affected is a pilot or in charge of a vehicle or equipment. The Civil Aviation Authority reports around 100 laser strike incidents on planes each year.”

The new controls, under Health and Customs legislation, cover the import, supply and acquisition of high-power laser pointers. They do not currently restrict the possession of high-power laser pointers. A bill is before Parliament which, if passed, would make it illegal to be in a public place with a laser pointer without a reasonable excuse.”

"The new controls have been crafted to only target the high risk hand-held laser pointers with a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt,” Goodhew said. “The regulations are in line with Australia’s restrictions and recommendations by the World Health Organization.”
"Lower power devices, like those used for pointing during presentations, will not be affected. The controls also do not apply to more sophisticated laser devices such as survey instruments or rifle sights.

"The new controls restrict access to these high-power laser devices to those who have a legitimate reason to use them such as astronomers.

"People will have to apply to the Ministry of Health for approval to import, sell or acquire a high power laser pointer.

"The Ministry is developing an online application form for people who want to apply to import, supply, or acquire such devices.

The new regulatory controls will come into force on 1 March 2014.

More information on the new regulations can be found on the Ministry of Health website www.health.govt.nz by searching ‘laser pointers’.

From Voxy.co.nz

Information from the Ministry of Health’s FAQ page on the new high-power laser pointer regulations

Effective date

Both the Health (High-power Laser Pointers) Regulations 2013 and the Custom Import Prohibition (High-power Laser Pointers) Order 2013 come into force on 1 March 2014.

Definition of a high-power laser pointer

New regulatory controls define a high-power laser pointer as a device that:

(a) in the Director-General of Health’s opinion, is of the kind commonly known as a laser pointer; and
(b) is battery operated; and
(c) is designed or intended to be operated while held in the hand; and
(d) produces a coherent beam of optical radiation of low divergence*; and
(e) has a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt (mW).

*Note: A coherent beam of optical radiation of low divergence means a beam that does not fan out like a torch beam.

What controls existed in New Zealand before the new regulations?

There were very few controls before the new regulations were passed.

There is a joint Australia/New Zealand Standard for lasers that provides recommendations for the safe use of lasers, including outlining manufacturing and labelling requirements for each class of laser. However the Standard is voluntary and has not been well complied with.

The Police have some laws to prosecute the malicious use of these devices, but this is generally after the fact and it can be hard to identify the offender (the observation, apprehension and conviction of perpetrators have in the past been very difficult).

Why the controls are being introduced

There are two key risks from high-power laser pointers:

  • Owners and users may not be aware of the potential harm that laser pointers can cause and may inadvertently shine them into their own or other people’s eyes.
  • People could maliciously (or ignorantly) shine them at vehicles such as aircraft and dazzle the pilot (or person controlling the vehicle). Even when shone from several hundred metres away high-power laser pointers can dazzle and cause temporary flash blindness. Distracting or dazzling a pilot, for instance, in this way is a serious aviation safety risk, particularly during critical phases of flight such as take-off and/or landing. Car drivers and ship crews are also at risk.

The risks associated with the use of lower-power laser pointers, however, are small. The power output is such that the human eye blink and aversion reflexes protect the retina from permanent damage.

What are the new controls?

In summary, the new controls cover the importation, supply and acquisition of high-power laser pointers. The Government has passed two new laws to introduce these controls:

  • The Custom Import Prohibition (High-power Laser Pointers) Order 2013 restricts the importation of high-power laser pointers to those people who have received consent from the Director-General of Health to import them. To get consent to import high-power laser pointers you need to apply to the Director-General of Health and follow the process explained below.
  • Health (High-power Laser Pointers) Regulations 2013 restrict the supply of high-power laser pointers to those who are authorised suppliers and also restricts the acquisition of such devices to those who are authorised recipients. To become an authorised supplier (allowing you to sell such devices) or an authorised recipient of a high-power laser pointer you need to apply to the Director-General of Health and follow the process explained below.

People can apply to be authorised as a person or classes of persons to supply or acquire high-power lasers. For example, a person can apply for consent to import, or to import and supply, such devices. Those obtaining them from a New Zealand supplier may need to apply for consent to acquire them for their own personal use, or if required, also apply for consent to be able to sell them to others.

The Health (High-power Laser Pointers) Regulations 2013 also contain provisions:

  • Enabling the Director-General of Health to impose conditions on any authorisations he/she grants and to require reasonable information from applicants to inform his/her authorisation decisions.
  • Empowering the Director-General of Health to declare classes of persons by notice in the Gazette to be authorised suppliers or recipients. [Note: Likely examples of authorised suppliers or recipients include astronomical societies and their members or people who use high-power laser pointers for scientific, research, or industrial purposes.
  • Requiring suppliers to only supply these devices to people whom they have reasonable grounds to believe that they are authorised to receive them.

What new offences have been created?

The Health (High-power Laser Pointers) Regulations 2013 include offences for:

  • supplying such devices to non-authorised suppliers or recipients (regulations 4 and 5).
  • acquiring such devices using misleading or deceitful means (regulation 6).
  • authorised suppliers who acquire high-power laser pointers for any purpose other than supply (unless they are also an authorised recipient) (regulation 7).

A person who commits an offence against the regulations is liable upon conviction to a maximum penalty of $500 under section 136 of the Health Act 1956.

Section 209 of the Customs and Excise Act 1996 includes an offence for people who import goods in contravention of a Customs Import Prohibition Order. If convicted an individual is liable to a fine not exceeding $5,000. Similarly, a body corporate is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000.

Is possession illegal?

No. Parliament is considering whether there is a need for control over the possession of high-power laser pointers. A Members Bill, sponsored by Dr Cam Calder MP, is currently before Parliament. The Bill proposes to amend the Summary Offences Act to create an offence to be in possession of a laser pointer in a public place without a reasonable excuse. A similar offence currently exists for knives. Ultimately, Parliament will decide whether the Bill is passed into law.

The new regulations do not ban any type of laser pointer outright. The new controls only apply to the import, supply and acquisition of laser pointers with a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt. The controls essentially make high-power laser pointers harder to obtain as people will need to justify why they need them.

Low-power laser pointers (up to and including 1 milliwatt in power) are not subject to the controls and continue to be readily available without restriction.

How does one get permission to import a high-power laser pointer?

People wanting to import such devices should apply in writing to the Director-General of Health for consent to import a high-power laser pointer. The application form to use when applying for consent to import a laser pointer is being developed and will be available from the Ministry’s website.

You need to obtain consent BEFORE you seek to import the device, otherwise it will likely be detained at the border.

Applicants need to explain their reasons for wanting to import a high-power laser pointer and if you are intending to supply them to others you will also need to show you understand any obligations you have under the Health (High-power Laser Pointers) Regulations 2013. For example, there are controls on who you are allowed to supply high-power lasers pointers to.

If you intend to use the devices yourself (eg, as astronomy aids) you will also likely need to show how you will manage potential health and safety risks.

The Director-General can grant such authorisations subject to any conditions he/she considers appropriate (eg, ensuring appropriate safeguards are in place and procuring the necessary undertaking from authorised users not to use, or permit the use of, the device in a way that may endanger others).

How do sellers know who can acquire a high-power laser pointer?

You can only supply such devices to authorised recipients or another authorised supplier who is acquiring the device(s) for the purpose of supply. You need to take reasonable steps to ensure that people you sell/supply laser pointers to are actually authorised to acquire them. One way is to ask to see their letter of authorisation from the Director-General of Health and some accompanying ID (such as a drivers licence).

Some classes of people will be granted automatic authorisation to supply or acquire high-power laser pointers and so will not have a specific letter of authorisation from the Director-General of Health (or delegate). These classes of people include:

  • astronomical societies;
  • members of astronomical societies;
  • people who use high-power laser pointers for scientific, research, or industrial purposes.

The Director-General can also declare other classes of people to be authorised suppliers/recipients. If he/she does this notice will be give made on the Gazette and other new classes with be added to the list of approved classes of suppliers/recipients on the Ministry’s web site.

If a person claims to fit one of these categories, you should ask for some evidence of this (and their identification). For example, in the case of amateur astronomers this could be their membership card or a letter from their astronomical society or employer explaining why they meet one of the classes of authorised people and what the devices are to be used for.

If you are still unsure, you may wish to email the Ministry of Health at: laserpointers@moh.govt.nz

Could the new controls cover other types of laser products?

The controls are not intended to cover all lasers or even all laser pointers – just high power laser pointers.

The new regulations have defined “high-power laser pointers” in a way that seeks to not inadvertently capture other laser devices (eg, sighting aids for hunting rifles, surveying instruments, military equipment, and other more sophisticated laser devices used in many industries).

The Director-General of Health also has the discretion to decide that certain devices are NOT laser pointers. This provides further assurance that other laser devices are not inadvertently captured by the regulations when there was never any intent to do so.

What public consultation happened regarding these new controls?

In 2012 the Government asked the Ministry of Health to publicly consult on options to better manage health and safety risks from these devices.

The new regulations were flagged as the preferred approach during public consultation and were supported in consultation feedback.

The consultation document (doc, 265 KB) and a summary of submitters’ feedback (doc, 145 KB) is available on the Ministry’s website

Where can I go for advice or more info?

Further information about controls on high power laser pointers is available on the Ministry of Health’s website.

The New Zealand Customs Service’s website has further information about importing goods and prohibited and restricted imports.