A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
UK: "Call for evidence" response summarizes many groups' views on laser eye, plane incidents; sets forth actions
The U.K. government published on January 8 2018 a 14-page report on laser pointer safety and potential regulation. The report includes two new actions the government will take to reduce the number and risk of unsafe laser pointers:
1) “strengthening safeguards to stop high-powered lasers entering the country”, and
2) “working with manufacturers and retailers to [voluntarily] improve labeling.
Separately, the U.K. government published the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill on December 20 2017. This makes it illegal to point a laser at vehicles, with a prison term of up to five years and an unlimited fine.
“Laser pointers: call for evidence - government response”
From August 12 to October 6 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opened a “Call for Evidence” consultation. BEIS set forth 19 questions, asking the public to give their views on laser pointer hazards and what actions to take.
The January 8 2018 government response summarizes the 265 responses received.
The report is especially useful because it incorporates the views of many disparate groups: pilots (64% of respondents), “concerned members of the public” (14%), professional laser safety advisors (9%), users of laser pointers (6%), ophthalmologists (6%), and Trading Standards authorities (2%).
The report then distills these views, finding surprising commonality. It is a good overview for the non-expert on two topics:
1) Actual laser pointer hazards — separating fact from fear
2) Potential actions to reduce the number and severity of laser pointer injuries and incidents — including what actions may not work (e.g., licensing).
We have summarized the findings below (click the “read more” link). However, reading the complete document is well worth the time of anyone interested in this issue.
Click to read more...
Enjoy Your Holiday Laser-light Display Responsibly
Each holiday season for the past several years, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has received reports from pilots who said they were distracted or temporarily blinded by residential laser-light displays.
The FAA's concerns about lasers – regardless of the source – is that they not be aimed at aircraft in a way that can threaten the safety of a flight by distracting or blinding the pilots. People may not realize that systems they set up to spread holiday cheer can also pose a potential hazard to pilots flying overhead.
So if you’re going to install a holiday laser-light system, please make sure the lights are hitting your house and not shining up into the sky. It may not look like the lights go much farther than your house, but the extremely concentrated beams of laser lights actually reach much further than most people think.
If the FAA becomes aware of a situation where a laser-light display affects pilots, we start by asking the owner to adjust them or turn them off. However, if someone's laser-light display repeatedly affects pilots despite previous warnings, that person could face an FAA civil penalty.
Note: The FAA press release was reprinted in a number of news sources including KUSA, the News Tribune and SFGate.
LaserPointerSafety.com has a separate story about the number of FAA laser incident reports in 2017 due to actual or suspected holiday light displays.
FDA gave these examples of laser toys:
- Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming”;
- Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin;
- Hand-held lasers used during play as “light sabers”; and
- Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room.
According to the Consumer Update, “Toys with lasers are of particular interest to the FDA because children can be injured by these products. Because they are marketed as toys, parents and kids alike may believe they’re safe to use.”
The FDA had tips for safe use, including:
- Do not aim at persons or animals
- Do not aim at any vehicle, aircraft or shiny surface; or persons playing sports
- Children’s toy lasers should be Class I.
- Children should not be allowed to own or use laser pointers. Pointers are not toys.
- Do not buy or use any laser that emits more than 5 milliwatts.
- See a health care professional in case of a known or suspected laser eye injury.
The FDA’s health warning was referenced in numerous news and publication sources over the 2017 holiday season.
From the FDA Consumer Update, “Laser Toys: How to Keep Kids Safe”. FDA also linked to a 2015 FDA YouTube video on laser pointer safety.
For background, LaserPointerSafety.com has a series of webpages about laser toys which begin with a summary here.
The editorial notes that in the late 2000s, New Jersey beachfront cities had problems with widespread laser sales — followed by widespread misuse. Ocean City NJ banned laser sales and possession in the summer of 2010, as did another Jersey Shore city, North Wildwood, a few years later.
The paper wrote “Apparently, coverage of the incidents and bans was enough to spread the word that pointing lasers at aircraft is dangerous and illegal, as incidents in the area greatly diminished.”
The editorial then noted that despite this local decrease, there are “still about 7,000 reports of lasers aimed at aircraft each year [in the U.S.].”
The article concluded with the suggestion to “[r]equire a warning about the five years in prison and $250,000 fine on every laser for sale (on the packaging or on a handout to the buyer).”
From the Press of Atlantic City
The campaign began with a press conference where Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport and Tony Cusimano, Superintendent of York Regional Police spoke about the hazards.
Garneau said, "Pointing a laser at an aircraft is not only a reckless act that puts people at unnecessary risk, it’s simply not a bright idea. As Minister of Transport, I take this type of behaviour seriously because Canadians and their families deserve to feel safe while flying. We want people to know there are serious consequences, including $100,000 in fines and up to five years in prison. Transport Canada and law enforcement across the country are working together to ensure offenders face the fullest force of the law.”
Transport Canada has set up a website at www.tc.gc.ca/NotABrightIdea. It includes a catchy animated video, “Dumb Ways to Blind” aimed at millennials, plus three other more conventional videos on the topic.
According to the website, “[i]n 2015, there were almost 600 reported incidents.” This was an increase over the 502 incidents reported in 2014.
Transport Canada urges those interested to use the hashtag #NotABrightIdea. On Twitter, since January 1 2016 there have been about 40 posts with this hashtag; 33 of them about lasers and 7 about other topics that are “not a bright idea.”
From a news release issued by Transport Canada
This is an update to a similar warning issued December 16 2010. It contains more specific guidance about how to tell whether a handheld pointer may be over the U.S. limit of 5 mW for a laser sold as a “pointer” or for pointing purposes.
Also, the 2015 version includes details about how to report potential laser injuries to FDA’s MedWatch medical device reporting system, and what information to include in the MedWatch report.
The full text of the FDA Safety Communication is below; click the “Read More…” link.
From U.S. FDA: December 22 2015 safety communication, and December 16 2010 safety notification
UPDATED February 19 2015 — The FDA also produced a video, entitled “Laser Pointer Safety”. The 3 1/2 minute presentation shows some of the hazards of laser pointers. It also gives recommendations on how to select and safely use laser pointers. From the FDA’s YouTube channel.Click to read more...
Eibhlin McLoone, a consultant ophthalmologist with the Belfast HSC Trust, has treated several of the children and said the devices "are not toys".
"Sadly, I have seen children who have eye damage because they have played with a laser pointer and unfortunately once the eye has been damaged by a laser pen the damage is irreversible," she said.
"Due to the risk of permanent visual impairment, it is vital that the public is aware of the risks associated with laser pointers and that these devices are never viewed as toys."
Ms McLoone added: "Unfortunately, once the laser burn has happened there is no treatment available to reverse it."
From the Belfast Telegraph
Wicked is a major internet advertiser and a heavy user of AdWords. By doing this, the company puts the information in front of a large audience of persons whose browsing history indicates they are interested in lasers.
The Wicked Lasers AdWords ad, with the safety phrase highlighted to show its location. (The highlighting does not appear in the actual ad.)
The company’s intent is to help reduce the number of incidents of persons aiming lasers at aircraft. They are also one of the few companies to include a “don’t aim at aircraft” warning on their lasers’ labels, and in the user manual.
Brought to our attention by Steve Liu, CEO of Wicked Lasers
This is the first time that Wicked, or any consumer laser manufacturer, has used the proposed “Laser Safety Facts” labeling system which aims to give the general public detailed and easily accessible safety data. A key part of this proposal is that the information is not controlled by Wicked or any laser manufacturer; instead it comes from an independent source.
Click to read more...
According to the agency’s information, published July 5 2014, FDA requires that manufacturers of handheld, battery-powered lasers limit the power of the laser light to five milliwatts or less. The label must state the power and the hazard class.
The guidance tells the reader not to purchase handheld, battery-powered lasers above 5 milliwatts “unless the manufacturer has an approval from FDA (called a ‘variance’) to allow the purchase.” Otherwise, the sale is illegal, according to the agency.
They also warn against aiming lasers at eyes, at reflective surfaces into eyes, or at the operator of aircraft, watercraft, or vehicles.
From the FAA Basics webpage entitled “Does FDA regulate these new powerful laser ‘pointers’ and are they hazardous?”
Douglas Brandt said that pointers should be labeled as Class 2 [less than 1 milliwatt] or Class 3R [less than 5 mW]. He stated that Class 3B and 4 lasers had the potential to damage the eye and were required to be registered with the State of Illinois.
He urged students to not direct a laser pointer at a person’s eye, and not to use Class 3B or 4 lasers, or unlabeled lasers.
Brandt is the laser safety officer at the university, which has about 11,600 students.
From the Daily Eastern News
These regulations, 21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11, require laser product manufacturers only to self-certify to the Food and Drug Administration that their products meet safety standards. Once the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health reviews and acknowledges the certification, the laser product can be marketed in the United States.
UL is providing a third-party, independent check on the manufacturer’s claims. This can be provided to retailers such as Amazon.com which in August 2013 began requiring third-party verification of lasers sold on its website. UL can also assist with preparation of a manufacturer’s FDA report.
Click to read more...
A police pilot spokesperson said laser users are not reading the packaging which clearly states not to aim at aircraft. After being caught, "There's been a lot of apologies, a lot of regret, some people not realizing the consequences of what they were doing, and then there's been the far opposite -- I can't believe this is happening, this is ludicrous, this isn't serious, it's just a laser pointer."
The pilot also said that a ban is not the answer: "If it's used properly, it's harmless. It's hard to ban something like that, the sale of it completely if 95% of the general public are using it properly."
He noted that not just police aircraft are being lased. Commercial and private aircraft also are at risk.
Edmonton police helicopter pilots are equipped with safety glasses for use during laser illuminations. They have two pair, one to attenuate red laser light and one to attenuate green laser light.
For details on the two most recent Edmonton incidents, on September 6 and 7 2012, see this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
From the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun. Thanks to Keith Murland for bringing this to our attention.
In an August 6 2013 press release and Consumer Health Information article, FDA warned parents that lasers operated unsafely can cause serious eye injuries and even blindness. FDA said injuries from lasers can go unnoticed for days or weeks since there is no pain. But vision can slowly deteriorate over time, eventually causing permanent eye damage.
FDA gave the following as examples of children’s toy laser products:
- Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming”;
• Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin;
• Hand held lasers used during play as “light sabers”;
• Dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column; and
• Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room.
Interestingly, the FDA’s press release and article gave tips on safe usage, including not aiming at car drivers or sports players -- but did not say that it is unsafe and illegal to aim at aircraft.
On August 7 2013, FDA issued draft guidance for industry on minimizing the risk of lasers in children’s toys. Comments are invited within 90 days of the Federal Register publication of the guidance, or by November 4 2013. The draft guidance is reprinted below.
Click to read more...
The proposal was issued in the Federal Register on June 24 2013. The public may send comments to FDA until September 23 2013. FDA will then evaluate the comments, make any changes as a result, and at a future date will put the amendments into effect.
For consumer lasers, the most significant proposal is to create a new category of specific purpose lasers, “children’s toy laser products.” FDA says these could include lasers intended for creating entertaining optical effects, dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column, spinning tops which project laser beams, or lasers mounted on toy guns for “aiming.” FDA defines such toys as “a product that is manufactured, designed, intended or promoted for use by children under 14 years of age.”
The laser inside such a toy would be restricted to Class I (less than 1 mW for visible light). This is because FDA is concerned that if the toy were broken or disassembled, a higher power laser could harm a child.
Click to read more...
7,378 lasers were seized, along with 8,780 parts from which lasers could be assembled. It was estimated that the company sold over 35,000 laser pointers from 2009-2011, generating income of over £1,000,000 (USD $1,600,000).
Techyun Hii, 33, pleaded guilty to four charges of laser pointer violations and a fifth charge of unsafe power chargers. He was sentenced to a 180 day jail term suspended for 18 months, and to 300 hours of community service. The lasers were later incinerated in a hospital’s furnace.
Lead author John O’Hagan detailed the HPA’s findings in a paper presented at the March 2013 International Laser Safety Conference in Orlando. The case had previously been reported by LaserPointerSafety.com.
Click to read more...
The author, Trevor Wheatley, is chair of the Standards Australia SF-019 Committee on laser safety. He studied 41 lasers purchased online in 2012 that were claimed by the sellers to be legal -- lower than the Australian import limit of 1 milliwatt. Most cost less than AUS $20.
Wheatley found that 95% of these pointers were illegal under Australian law, with outputs above 1 mW. Of the 41, 78% were between 5 mW and 100 mW. (5 mW is generally taken to be the highest safe power for a general purpose laser pointer.)
Based on Wheatley's research, "...there would appear to be a greater than 50% chance that someone attempting to buy a 'safe' laser pointer would inadvertently get a hazardous laser." Further, 100% of the tested laser pointers below $20 "would represent prohibited weapons in most Australian states."
From other statistics, the paper states that "availability has not been significantly impacted." In 2007/2008 there were 648 incidents involving lasers pointed at aircraft. In 2010/2011, well after the import and possession restrictions, the number of incidents had increased to 828.
Click to read more...
“CDRH recommends (but does not require) labeling on your product that cautions the purchaser with following or similar language: “CAUTION - LASER LIGHT IS BRIGHT AND BLINDING - DO NOT SHINE AT AIRCRAFT OR VEHICLES AT ANY DISTANCE”.
While FDA can require the familiar labels warning against laser eye and skin hazards, FDA does not have statutory authority to require labels for non-health hazards such as laser distraction or temporary flash blinding. Thus, the agency is only able to recommend -- but not require -- the new aircraft/vehicle caution label.
News of the action came in a December 7 2012 FDA email sent to parties including LaserPointerSafety.com. According to CDRH’s Daniel Hewett, the action applies to all “SLA products.” FDA/CDRH considers that laser pointers and handheld lasers are a subset of such Surveying, Leveling and Alignment laser products. SLA lasers are one of the three laser product uses which FDA can regulate under 21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11; the other two are medical and demonstration (education/light show) laser product uses.
From a Dec. 7 2012 FDA email. Thanks to Daniel Hewett for bringing this to our attention.
The ordinance would make it illegal to sell lasers over 1 milliwatt, or to sell any green laser to persons under 18. Adults misusing lasers would be charged with assault and battery, with a fine of up to $500, up to 30 days in jail, and being held liable for any damage or personal injury. Minors misusing lasers would be prosecuted in Family Court, plus parents would be held responsible and could be fined or jailed.
In addition, a warning would be required with the sale of every laser pointer.
Under county procedure, it takes three “readings” at council meetings to pass an ordinance. Based on the council’s schedule, the earliest it could be passed would be in January 2013.
From CarolinaLive. This is part of continuing stories at LaserPointerSafety.com about ongoing problems at Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach.
The agency states that battery-powered pointers and handhelds “manufactured, advertised, sold, imported or leased should be limited to … Class 3R” which is less than 5 mW visible output. It is unclear whether “should” is advisory or is a regulatory requirement.
The document focuses on eye, skin and fire hazards of lasers and does not discuss the problem of visual interference with pilots’ or drivers’ vision while operating vehicles.
From Newswire. The 2012 Health Canada press release is below (after the Read More… link). The July 2011 press release is here.
Click to read more...
The answer first noted that laser weapons are large. An anti-missile laser required a Boeing 747, the Navy set fire to a boat with a destroyer-mounted laser, and a dazzler-type laser called the PHaSR is as portable “as a bag of cement.”
Then, Straight Dope purchased a 1 watt blue handheld laser (the same or similar to the Wicked Lasers Spyder III Arctic). They aimed it at room temperature pork chops and bacon. From one foot away, it took 27 seconds of continuous exposure before smoke appeared. Even with matches, it took 11 seconds to light a match from one foot away, and 15 seconds from 32 feet away.
The January 6 2012 column concluded that handheld laser ray guns are not practical: “…the likelihood that this laser would actually change somebody’s mind (other than via intimidation alone) is virtually nil…. no bad guy is going to sit still while you fry him.”
Story and photos are at the Straight Dope website. The column was also printed in the Washington City Paper.
UPDATE: In comments at the Washington City Paper, “dave b” noted that exposure to skin isn’t necessarily the important factor: “The key is to get the laser into someone’s eye.”
This dreidel projects two laser dots, creating two circles when spun (insert photo). The listing above is from the U.S. Amazon.com website.
Click to read more...
The news story points out that laser pointers can cause permanent vision damage. In addition, the story says the laser is sold “without a filter,” probably meaning without an infrared (IR) filter. IR light can damage the retina -- like visible light -- but also could damage the cornea.
The video highlights Justin Stouder, a St. Louis-area resident who was arrested in April 2010 for aiming at a police helicopter. He apologized at a news conference in July 2011 intended to publicize the illegality and hazards of lasers aimed at aircraft.
The FBI also released video excerpts of the Stouder laser incident and his subsequent identification by the helicopter and arrest. The incident/arrest video was about 10 times as popular on YouTube, with over 225,000 views:
The press release, and a transcript of the video, are below (click on the Read More… link).Click to read more...
The Swiss government banned the sale of “powerful laser pointers” in May 2011. According to World Radio Switzerland, the country is considering a ban on owning such pointers.
From World Radio Switzerland
LIA did not give specific recommendations to avoid eye injuries, other than individuals being cautious. They did note that “[t]here is an active debate about what should be done. Is the solution education, regulation or prohibition for this type of hand-held laser device?…. Until the time that these lasers are statutorily banned, regulated through licensing or are widely recognized as a hazard, many more injuries will occur. The public should take note of these dangers immediately and keep these high-power, hand-held devices away from children and the untrained user.”
Full text of the July 26 2011 press release from LIA News is below (click the “Read More…” link).Click to read more...
They caution that laser pointers should be limited to IEC Class 3R (less than 5 milliwatts for visible beams). Health Canada says that higher powered Class 3B and 4 lasers “should not be used as laser pointers or in any other application unless operated by individuals who have been professionally trained in laser safety.”
The full text of the press release, including instructions on how to report suspected laser injuries, is available by clicking the “read more” link below.
From MarketwireClick to read more...
The announcement, dated a week before Christmas said “high-powered laser pointers” are “illegal and potentially dangerous.... The FDA wants to make consumers aware that they should not buy these lasers for themselves or as gifts for others.”
The announcement noted that “many eye injuries from laser pointers go unreported.” Of reported injuries, FDA said in 2010 they were aware of three incidents involving children playing with laser pointers. One of these caused damage “from reflected beams after directing a 150 mW laser pointer into a mirror.”
FDA also described incidents of pilots experiencing temporary flash-blinding. In 2009, pilots reported 1500 incidents; in the first 10 months of 2010, there were 2321 incidents. FDA noted in boldface that “Using a laser to illuminate aircraft is a federal crime.”
FDA listed five recommendations:
- Do not let children own or use laser pointers.
- Do not buy any laser pointer over 5 mW
- Do not aim laser pointers at any “person, pet, vehicle or aircraft” either directly or through reflections.
- If you own a laser pointer over 5 mW, “dispose of it safely according to local environmental protection guidelines.”
- If you are injured, see your eye doctor
The complete safety notification can be found on this FDA webpage, and is also reprinted here (click on the “Read more...” link).Click to read more...
The hobbyist indicated “I will comply since the things don’t really bring me much money.”
A link to the hobbyist’s post and the text of the letter are after the break (click the “Read More...” link below). For background information on the Casio diode harvesting, see the June 2010 alert.Click to read more...
The full press release from LIA is below (click Read More...).Click to read more...
Casio America, Inc. (“Casio”) has recently learned that potentially dangerous handheld laser pointer devices are being marketed and sold by Wicked Lasers, Ltd. (and possibly others) that are believed to incorporate laser diodes improperly removed from Casio XJ-A series projectors. Casio has never authorized this unintended and potentially dangerous misuse of the light source component of its XJ-A series Projectors.
Casio specifically instructs and warns purchasers of its XJ-A series projectors that disassembly or modification of the built-in laser module is “very dangerous and should never be attempted,” and would like to take this opportunity to remind the laser enthusiast community of that fact. The unauthorized, unintended and potentially dangerous misuse of the laser diodes improperly removed from Casio XJ-A series projectors for use in these handheld lasers, such as Wicked Lasers’ SPYDER III, may create a substantial risk of fire and injury to users and others. Casio intends to pursue Wicked Lasers and any other companies that violate Casio’s rights by misusing components of its XJ-A projectors or other products to the fullest extent of the law.
At the same time, Casio strongly urges consumers to avoid these unauthorized and potentially dangerous “laser pointers” such as the SPYDER III.
WARNING: DO NOT SHINE YOUR LASER AT AN AIRCRAFT
Shooting a laser at an aircraft is considered a felony in the U.S.
The new label is being introduced in September 2009 by Wicked Lasers. They have a significant presence on the Internet, marketing a wide range of lasers for pointing, burning/cutting, and general purpose uses.