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Switzerland: Laser pointers above Class 1 banned as of June 1 2019
As of June 2019, this is the most restrictive laser pointer law of any major country; Class 2 pointers (up to 1 milliwatt) are legal in most countries, and Class 3R pointers (up to 5 milliwatts) are legal in the U.S.
Travelers should note that laser pointers and "hybrid devices" above Class 1 that are being transported into or through Switzerland can be confiscated before entering Swiss borders. For example, a wireless mouse used for PowerPoint presentations, such as the one shown below could be confiscated if it contains a laser above Class 1.
The Swiss ban applies to all laser classes above Class 1 (1M, 1C, 2, II, 2M, 3a, IIIa, 3R, 3B, IIIb, 4 and IV) as well as pointers with no labels or markings. These are all defined as "dangerous pointers" by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.
Persons in Switzerland who currently possess "dangerous pointers" except for Class 2 must cease to use them beginning on June 1 2019, and must dispose of them as electrical waste before June 1 2020.
Persons possessing Class 2 pointers can use them indoors only for presentations until June 1 2021, by which time they must be disposed of as electrical waste.
"Laser pointer" is defined as "a hand-held laser that can be used to point to things, for amusement (as a toy or in hobbies), to scare off animals or drive away other people."
More information appears below.
The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health ("BAG" in German) defined laser pointers as follows:
"Laser pointers are products that can be held or carried in their hands due to their size and weight, and that emit laser radiation for pointing, amusement and defense purposes:
- Pointing laser pointers are products that are marketed for actual viewing purposes. Also included in this category are similar products in terms of design and operation with built-in laser pointers such as key fobs, remote controls or pocket knives.
- Amusement laser pointers are products that are marketed as show lasers, as toys, as animal toys, for hobby purposes or for other similar purposes. Also included in this category are semi-finished products, assembled or tinkered laser devices with laser pointer function.
- Laser pointers for defense purposes are products that are marketed as repellents against animals or humans as well as personal protection devices."
BAG noted reasons for the ban:
"Laser pointers whose radiation exceeds a certain level can cause serious eye damage. Their radiation is strongly concentrated and widens only slightly with increasing distance. With short distances to a laser pointer, it is therefore possible that a large part of the laser beam can penetrate through the pupil into the eye. The eye additionally focuses this beam to focus on the retina. In the area of the retina, this creates zones with enormous radiation energy, which can cause burns, holes in the retina or bleeding. Such injuries worsen a person's visual acuity to a degree where they can only roughly recognize a hand moving in front of their head. Although chances of recovery are possible, there is a great danger of permanent eye damage. If the focused laser beam falls on the optic nerve, an eye can even definitely go blind in the worst case.
"Laser pointers are divided into different hazard classes. Only the smallest class 1 is absolutely safe. In case of class 2 eye damage is possible if a person does not turn away reflexively within a quarter of a second or close the irradiated eye. Therefore children are particularly at risk, who are attracted by light sources and who can stare into the laser beam for a long time. Laser pointers of the higher laser classes 3R, 3B and 4 are likely or safe for eye damage. To make matters worse, that laser pointers often radiate more than can be assumed on the basis of their class.
"Furthermore, the radiation from laser pointers can dazzle the eyes. Irritations, short-term losses of the sense of sight as well as phantom images that last longer occur. Among other things, the latter cause people to recognize colors either wrongly or not at all. Such dazzling can seriously endanger humans because they no longer perceive their environment optically."
BAG listed accident data to support the ban:
"The number of accidents caused by laser pointers in Switzerland is difficult to estimate. In a representative survey of about 2,000 people by the research institute GfS in 2013 (Bieri et al., 2013), eleven percent of respondents said that they had been blinded by a laser pointer before. In particular, people under the age of 26 appear to be particularly affected, as every fifth person in this age group has ever had glare. More than one-tenth of the blinded persons controlled a means of transport during the incident. Projected half a percent of the Swiss population was treated for medical treatment because of the glare. Furthermore, persons who own a laser pointer are twice as affected by glare compared to people who do not have a laser pointer.
"Scientific studies on health damage and hazards that have caused concern only individuals, there are no epidemiological studies on the subject. The accidents were caused by laser pointers designated Classes 2, 3R (or American designation 3a), 3B and 4, respectively, which belong to these classes due to the services provided. Typical dangerous situations were the direct view into the beam as well as the view into a beam, which reflected shiny or reflecting surfaces. The accidents were caused unconsciously or deliberately by the victims themselves or by third parties. The latter situation occurs especially in children or adolescents who consciously do courage tests or laser experiments and thereby injure their eyes. The accidents occurring with the laser class 3R show that the mechanisms of the blinking reflex and the avoidance reactions do not provide sufficient protection even with moderate laser powers."
In addition to eye injury potential, BAG also described the problem of laser visual interference for drivers and pilots, and wrote:
"From 2010 to 2017, pilots throughout Switzerland reported about 500 laser glares. The competent authority has identified around 100 of these cases as serious, which affected the crews due to the laser glare. However, the competent authorities assume that there will be a considerable number of unreported cases."
In 2013 there were 150 reports of laser illuminations of aircraft in Switzerland. In 2014 the number declined to 120, and in 2015 it was about the same at 123.
BAG said that Class 1 laser pointers are suitable for boardrooms and classrooms. For other electronic presentations (e.g., PowerPoint), they recommended using software-generated pointers.
Penalties are in Article 13, Paragraph 3 of the law on non-ionizing radiation and sound. This sets a maximum fine of CHF 40,000 (USD $39,800) for violations of the laser pointer section of the law (Section 5). There appears to be no jail or prison penalties, only a fine.
There are no plans for the federal government to inform the Swiss population. Any information campaign would be up to the individual Swiss cantons (states). Information is posted at Zurich's airport as of May 27 2019, but not yet at other major airports such as Geneva or Basel.
For persons doing laser light shows, astronomy find-a-star presentations, or other events using lasers above Class 1, BAG issued "O-NIRSA: Events Involving Laser Regulation." This involves a 14-day notification period, and gaining training is specified areas of laser safety and laser show programming. These new regulations take effect December 1 2020 "at the latest."
From the following sources:
- A one-page information sheet about the June 1 2019 ban, from the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG), in English, German, French, and Italian.
- A 12-page fact sheet about laser pointer hazards giving background to the ban, from BAG, in German, French and Italian (there does not appear to be an English version; use Google Translate to read this in English).
- An overview of scientific studies of laser pointer accidents including a spreadsheet of such studies, from BAG, in German only.
- The BAG homepage on laser pointers in English (sort of, only a few items are in English), German, French, and Italian.
- The BAG homepage on "events involving laser radiation" e.g., laser shows in English, German, French and Italian.
- A May 24 2019 email from BAG to LaserPointerSafety.com, noting the laser pointer ban and summarizing its provisions, plus a May 27 2019 email about the information campaign and penalties.
COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM
As of June 2019, this is the most stringent restriction on laser pointers of any major country that we are aware of. Many countries permit the sale, possession and use of Class 1 (up to 0.39 mW) and Class 2 (up to 1 mW) laser pointers. The United States also permits the use of Class 3R (IIIa) pointers of up to 5 milliwatts.
Switzerland is not permitting even the possession of laser pointers above Class 1, starting June 1 2020 (June 1 2021 for Class 2 pointers).
And they will be confiscating any laser pointers (above Class 1) possessed by travelers into or transiting through Switzerland.
It will be interesting to see how this affects rates of Swiss laser injuries and pilot reports of laser illuminations.
For more on laser incidents in the country, see these news stories tagged "Switzerland" for aviation incidents, non-aviation incidents, and all other news (statistics, laws, etc.).