A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: Survey paper says "Injury from laser pointer trauma is a public health problem on the rise"

A review in the April 2015 issue of the journal Retina Today discusses injuries and incidents involving intentional laser pointer exposure.

It begins by summarizing misuse in sports, and in the thousands of incidents per year in the U.S. where lasers are aimed at aircraft.

The authors, Dr. Gregory D. Lee and Dr. David R. Lally, then write “Perhaps the greatest concerns are raised by reports of unsupervised children who have received these lasers as toys or gifts and expose themselves to the laser beams, causing permanent retinal injury with reduced central vision. From 2000 to 2009, there were five reports of 18 patients with injuries due to laser pointer exposure.”

They discuss the types of injuries (thermal, photochemical and mechanical) and locations of retinal injuries. There is a listing of laser classes, with “pointers” — Class 1, 2 or 3R (IIIa) — being distinguished from similar-looking but more powerful Class 3B and 4 “handheld” lasers.

The authors conclude as follows:

“Inappropriately used class 3B or 4 lasers should be considered weapons that can cause serious, permanent bodily injury. Even brief exposures to diffused rays of laser beams can cause temporary flash blindness that may last for hours in airline pilots, endangering the lives of passengers, particularly during takeoff and landing sequences. Cases of short-range laser exposure are becoming more common, often involving children who are inappropriately given these devices as toys, and these patients are referred to retina specialists after the damage has already occurred.

“No definitive experimental study, case report, or animal model has shown improvement in these injuries with any type of treatment, but typically these patients are treated with a short course of corticosteroids or nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. Secondary choroidal neovascularization has been treated successfully with intravitreal anti-VEGF agents.13,14

“Clinicians, particularly retina specialists, can raise awareness of this rising public health issue by educating patients and parents about the hazards of laser pointers. Legislation is currently being written to impose stronger regulations on the distribution and sale of these devices. If a patient presents with findings of a laser-related retinal injury, clinicians should report the incident to the FDA so that investigations can be performed into the manufacturers of these devices. Reports can be made at www.fda.gov/downloads/AboutFDA/ReportsManualsForms/Forms/UCM236066.pdf.”

From Retina Today

Northern Ireland: "Laser Lunacy" drama visits schools to warn students not to aim lasers at aircraft

Belfast International Airport is trying to reach local youths to warn them against aiming lasers at aircraft. The airport worked with Arts & Business to develop a dramatic performance called “Laser Lunacy”. The 20-minute show will be performed for over 2,000 students in six Belfast-area schools.

According to an October 19 2016 story in the Irish News, the performance depicts an aircraft crew member being blinded, which leads to a crash that injures 17 people. The subsequent investigation highlights how a criminal conviction can ruin a young person’s life.

After the performance there is a question-and-answer session to reinforce the message.

BIA’s Jaclyn Coulter told the newspaper “We have a very serious message to get across to young people and we thought that the most effective way of doing that was through drama…. [W]e are delighted with the response we have had both from schools and pupils. We want this practice to be stamped out. It is not fun. It is not a game.”

There were 35 aircraft illumination incidents last year, and 16 thus far in 2016.

From the Irish News

UK: Consumer lasers hazardous up close, but will not injure pilots, say 3 top UK experts

Three top U.K. laser safety experts published an overview of consumer laser hazards in the April 19 2016 British Journal of Ophthalmology. The key finding that made news (at sources such as CNN, ABC and the Daily Mail) was that lasers aimed at aircraft have not caused eye injuries to pilots, and are not likely to do so.

But in addition to this declaration, the authors also provided a succinct summary of the current state of consumer laser pointer misuse, and how ophthalmologists should proceed when studying a patient’s laser exposure.

Experts John Marshall, John O’Hagan and John Tyrer began by noting that low-powered Class 2 (less than 1 milliwatt) and Class 3R (1-5 mW) lasers “are not an eye hazard, and even if used inappropriately will not cause permanent eye damage.”

However, consumer laser devices with Class 3B (5-500 mW) and Class 4 (above 500 mW) powers have begun to cause injuries. “….[C]lass 4 devices are capable of causing irreversible retinal damage if directed into the eye over short ranges, up to several metres. Such devices have resulted in foveal injuries in children with current estimates of 150 cases in the UK. The [UK] media has given significant coverage to this growing problem.”

Ophthalmologists were advised that in cases of close up exposure, there may potentially be permanent damage. A detailed examination would be warranted, although there is no treatment to reverse permanent damage.

The hazards from this short range misuse differ from the hazards of aiming a laser towards pilots. Because the laser-to-aircraft distance is typically “hundreds to thousands of metres”, and because of scattering from the windscreen, eye injuries are nonexistent: “Fortunately, these exposures are at irradiances that are incapable of producing irreversible retinal damage even at distances of 100 m.”

They said that only one case of alleged retinal damage has been reported in pilots. [LPS.com note: this is for publicly available reports involving civilian pilots.] The experts concluded the case is suspect for a number of reasons; they do not believe laser targeting caused the alleged injury.

Marshall, O’Hagan and Tyrer turned from injuries to the hazards of distracting pilots with bright laser lights: “Obviously, if such a distraction occurs at a critical time such as during landing then the result could be devastating.”

For ophthalmologists examining pilots, if there are no permanent abnormalities on an Amsler grid test, the physician should not do any detailed eye exam, as this “would only serve to compromise the pilot's vision for a longer period.” The authors noted that pilots may delay seeing an expert for “many hours or a day or so during which there may be a growing psychological element.”

In an interview with CNN, Marshall said the findings on pilot hazards are based on previous laser safety research as well as a new study done with field experiments at a military base over about three years.

In the BJO editorial, the three experts agreed that current laser safety standards and guidelines are based on valid experiments and science. The standards do not need to be revised, “…but clearly further attempts must be made to educate the public.”

The editorial concluded “The European Commission has mandated the European Standardisation bodies to produce a standard specifically for consumer laser products. This should allow enforcing authorities to remove unsafe products from the market. However, compliance by manufacturers will remain an issue, as will direct imports by the public purchasing unsafe laser products over the internet.”

From the British Journal of Ophthalmology editorial “Eye hazards of laser ‘pointers’ in perspective” by John Marshall, John O’Hagan, and John Tyrer, available in HTML text and as a PDF document. Click on the blue “Read More…” link below for an April 19 2016 press release from the BJO summarizing the paper’s findings relative to pilot hazards.
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US: Aviation reporter says FAA anti-laser efforts aren't working; wants more social media

Aviation reporter Christine Negroni called the FAA’s effort to publicize prosecutions of laser offenders “unsuccessful.” Speaking on an August 29 2015 podcast, Negroni said “they haven’t even learned from their lack of success and it’s very, very frustrating to me.”

Negroni began the segment by noting that laser incidents are “truly a menace and it’s not to be taken lightly.” She said offenders “don’t watch the news, they don’t read the paper” and thus “they need to be reached out on their level. And that level is like a Facebook level or a Twitter level, where people are actually going to learn.”

She concluded that “it’s just time for the establishment to get on board, before something really terrible happens.”

Negroni has written aviation articles for publications such as the New York Times and Smithsonian Air & Space, is an on-air expert for ABC, CNN and NBC, and has a book on mysterious aviation accidents coming out in 2016. She previously wrote an article for RGN critical of FAA laser publicity efforts entitled “No let-up in laser attacks on airplanes” published December 13 2013, and a blogpost on the same topic on August 28 2014.

From the Runway Girl Network podcast episode 27, “Crash Investigations and Laser Incriminations”, uploaded August 29 2015. A transcript of the laser-relevant parts of the podcast is below.

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South Africa: Students warned not to bring lasers to school

A South African province has warned students that laser lights “can be considered a harmful weapon that can cause a serious eyesight injury.” Bringing a laser on school premises would be “serious misconduct, which may lead to expulsion,” said a spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Education.

It was unclear from news reports whether the warning was sent directly to students at school, or if the warning came only as part of a May 4 2015 news story on the website Health24.com. A May 11 search of the Gauteng Department of Education website did not show any announcements, notices, documents, or other information warning about laser pointer hazards.

The spokesperson said that at least two children had permanent eye damage from lasers. One case cited was a South African 11-year-old boy who looked into the laser light after one of his classmates was playing with it. His mother said “He now has a blind spot right in front of him, but still see the sides of the eye [sic].” This case was reported in April 2015. The other South African case involved a child who aimed a laser’s light into his eye and had permanent damage.

Gautang is the most populous province in South Africa. It contains the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Midrand and Vanderbijlpark.

From Health24.com: Story about the warning to learners, and story about the 11-year-old boy being injured.

US: UPDATED - Reporter questions effect of FAA/FBI "blame and shame" campaign

A well-known aviation reporter has taken issue with how the FAA and FBI are trying to reduce the number of laser illuminations on aircraft. On August 28 2014, Christine Negroni published a post on her blog Flying Lessons entitled “Aviation’s Effort Combating Laser Attacks Hashtag #Ineffective #Insane”.

She disagrees with the U.S. government’s primary focus being a “blame and shame” campaign that tries to capture laser perpetrators using helicopters, then prosecutes them and publicizes the resulting multi-year sentences. Negroni calls this a “high-tech, heavy-metal, dollar-intensive approach to the problem … [that] has gone terribly wrong…”

Her contention is that persons who aim at aircraft “don’t watch television news, read the daily newspaper or log on to the FAA laser education website before heading out into the night with their nifty green or blue laser pointers.”

She ends her blog post by calling for creativity to try to market this message to its target audience of teens and young men, using a more sophisticated publicity or social media effort.

In the past few years Negroni has written about what she calls “this disaster in the making” for the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine. Late in 2013, she wrote a more detailed article for the blog Runway Girl Network, exploring the problem — and suggested solutions — in more depth.

From Flying Lessons. Background information disclosure: LaserPointerSafety.com provided some information to Negroni which was used in her articles.

UPDATED September 8 2014 - Negroni’s blog post was reprinted by the Huffington Post.

US: Video PSA uses Internet meme to teach laser safety

A public service announcement (PSA) video, added to YouTube in August 2014, uses cute graphics and a catchy song to show viewers what not to do with lasers.

Pic 2014-08-28 at 7.48.56 PM
In the video, various animated characters are shown lasing planes and going to jail, hurting themselves by misusing powerful lasers, aiming at police and getting shot, and otherwise having an ironic, unfortunate outcome.

”Dumb Ways to Blind” is modeled after “Dumb Ways to Die”, a November 2012 YouTube hit originally done for Metro Trains in Melbourne, Victoria. The Australian campaign “generated at least $50 million worth of global media value in addition to more than 700 media stories,” according to ad industry magazine The Age. It was viewed on YouTube over 84 million times as of July 2014.

The laser version is one of dozens of parodies and spin-offs. Unlike many of these which are done only for humor, “Dumb Ways to Blind” appears to have an educational goal similar to the original “Dumb Ways to Die”.

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US: FBI expands laser education & reward campaign nationwide for 3 months

The FBI is expanding nationwide its program to publicize the hazards of aiming laser pointers at aircraft, and to offer up to $10,000 as a reward for information leading to the arrest of laser perpetrators.

The original FBI education and reward program ran from February 11 to April 11 2014 in 12 U.S. cities that had high rates of laser/aircraft incidents. The FBI said the program led to a 19 percent decrease in lasing reports.

The new, nationwide program was announced June 3 2014. The $10,000 reward offer is scheduled to last for 90 days; until September 1.

The FBI said they are working on the educational campaign with the Federal Aviation Administration, the Air Line Pilots Association, International, and state, local and international law enforcement. They are outreaching to schools, teaching teens to not aim at aircraft.
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US: FBI offers $10,000 reward; warns public about laser pointer misuse

For 60 days, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a reward of $10,000 for information about anyone pointing a laser at an aircraft. Between February 11 and April 11 2014, persons reporting lasers being pointed at aircraft should call their local FBI field office or the 911 emergency number.

This comes as part of a publicity campaign by the FBI to inform the public and especially teenagers about the dangers of lasing aircraft. The agency said teens are the primary age group responsible for laser/aircraft illuminations.

[Note: There appear to be no official records of perpetrators’ ages. However, here are lists of incidents recorded in LaserPointerSafety.com news items, based on the age of the perpetrator: 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-69. Counting the stories in each group may give a rough indication of the age distribution of laser perpetrators.]

The two-month campaign will focus on 12 cities with large number of incidents. FBI field offices participating in the regional reward program are Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Juan, and the Washington Field Office.

During the campaign, the FBI and the Air Line Pilots Association International will work with Clear Channel Outdoor to hang billboards and issue public service announcements in these cities, warning people that a laser prank can lead to prison.
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US: Professor emails all students at university to remind them of laser safety

A physics professor at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston sent an email January 13 2014 to all students urging safe laser pointer use.

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

US: NIST working to get forensics labs to measure laser pointers for court cases

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is working with law enforcement to measure the actual power and divergence of laser pointers used against aircraft. NIST hopes to develop a Hand-Held Laser Characterization System for about $10,000 to $30,000 which can be used in FBI or police forensics labs. This will help in prosecution of cases of lasers illegally aimed at aircraft.

The effort began when NIST physicist and laser safety officer Joshua Hadler worked with the U.S. Attorney’s office on a 2013 case in Fresno, California. Hadler already had devised a relatively simple and inexpensive way to accurately measure laser pointer powers. (His widely-reported study showed that a majority of pointers exceeded the U.S. limit of 5 milliwatts.)

But power is only one factor of the potential laser hazard. The beam spread, or divergence is another key factor. This is because a wide, high-divergence beam will have its energy spread out more, making it dimmer and less hazardous at a distance than an otherwise equivalent-power laser with a narrower, low-divergence beam.

To tackle this, Hadler used a pyroelectric laser camera to measure the laser’s divergence. From the power and divergence, and knowing the approximate distance to the aircraft from the Federal Aviation Administration incident reports, Hadler was able to calculate the irradiance, or laser power over a given area.

The information helped to get a conviction in the Fresno case. Hadler noted that in the past, “...the vast majority of prosecutions were failing, due in no small part to a basic lack of knowledge about the laser devices on the part of nearly everyone in the trial process, including lawyers, judges, and jury members. What they needed was to be able to acquire and present quantitative data about a device's power and its effects at a specified range that could be used in the judicial process."

Hadler will present a paper on February 21 2014 at the American Academy of Forensic Sciences meeting in Seattle, Washington. The paper, “Output Characterization of Handheld Lasers Used in Criminal Aircraft Illumination,” will discuss the needed measurements and will present ideas for having these measurements be done outside of NIST, in law enforcement forensic labs.

From PhysOrg

Canada: Laser strikes up significantly in Edmonton

Incidents of persons aiming lasers at Edmonton police aircraft have risen significantly. As of September 9 2013, there have been 10 such incidents. This compares with 9 incidents in all of 2012, and 4 incidents in 2011.

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.

US: L.A. Sheriff's Dept. puts "Laser Strike" info video on YouTube

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on April 4 2013 uploaded a 13-minute long training video to YouTube called “Laser Strike”. The video was produced in association with the LASD Aero Bureau, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. In addition, four other “bonus content” videos were uploaded, which feature interviews.

LASD laser video still frame

To see the video, click this link to YouTube. Following this link should also lead to the bonus content videos.

To get a flavor of the training video, click the “Read More…” link below for a list of selected excerpts and interesting statements.

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World: Summary of papers presented at International Laser Safety Conference 2013

Every two years, world experts in laser safety gather at the International Laser Safety Conference. Below is an overview of 15 laser pointer, laser show and laser/aviation safety papers presented at the 2013 ILSC meeting in Orlando. The papers are available in the 2013 ILSC Proceedings, a 390-page book available from the Laser Institute of America. All page references below are to the Proceedings book.

Laser pointer hazards for pilots

  • A study of the actual output of 40 laser pointers, with powers up to 1.5 Watts, showed significant differences between measured and calculated hazard levels. In some cases, the actual hazard measured at some spots inside the beam was three times the estimated hazard. This is due to the laser output not being smooth in all cases, but instead the beams having “hot spots”. The study also showed that windscreens reduced the beam irradiance -- which is safer for pilots -- from 5% to 60%. (Note however that the McLin study described below showed that windscreens also spread the beam and thus increase glare.)
“Laser Pointer Hazards for Pilots and Drivers of Public Transportations”, Klaus Dickmann and Nils Nitzschke, Laser Center FH Muenster, Steinfurt, Germany, pages 289-298.

  • A discussion of how being inside the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance of a laser beam does NOT mean instant blindness for pilots and others.For example, consider a 1 Watt, 1 milliradian laser where the recommended safety distance (NOHD) is 733 feet. If possible, you should be at least 733 feet from the laser before exposing an eye to the direct beam. What is the actual hazard? At 232 feet from this laser, there is a 50/50 chance of the beam causing a barely observable retinal lesion under laboratory conditions where the laser and eye are fixed in place. Due to motion of the aircraft and hand-holding the laser, the chance of a retinal lesion is likely to be less. The distance from 232 feet (“ED50”) out to the NOHD at 733 feet is a known “safety factor” where the chance of retinal injury decreases even further. At the NOHD there is a “vanishingly small risk of hazardous exposure” (Sliney, 2013). Police and other first responder pilots can use this information to better weigh the risk of laser exposure to laser light vs. the benefits of completing a mission (rescuing a person, apprehending criminals, etc.). This presentation also discusses ways to make flight near lasers safer for pilots. A PDF file of all the slides presented is here.
“Better Informing the Public of Laser Exposure Injury Potential”, Patrick Murphy and Greg Makhov, International Laser Display Association, Florida, US, page 288 (one-paragraph abstract only, without details -- no paper available in the Proceedings).

For additional ILSC 2013 papers, click the “read more” link.
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US: New York area officials ask for public's help

At a September 20 2012 press conference at New Jersey State Police Headquarters, officials from the New York tri-state area asked the public’s help in identifying persons who aim lasers at aircraft. Such incidents occur about once per day at airports in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area.

A pilot from the Air Line Pilots Association told of his experiences when hit by laser light, and said that “Laser illumination can cause temporary blindness and even permanently damage a pilot’s eyes, potentially leading to an aircraft accident…Individuals must understand the danger and their responsibility to report anyone who misuses lasers.”

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is sending officers to schools near airports, to explain the hazards of lasers to children, and to warn them against aiming at aircraft.

An FBI agent said that the bureau is worried about adults and deliberate attacks by terrorists. Fines can range up to $11,000, said an FAA representative. a Coast Guard pilot said that rules requiring helicopters to break off rescues if they are directly lasered, adds to the risk of those the Coast Guard is trying to rescue.

The various law enforcement officials said they were asking the public to call 911 or local authorities if they see misuse, because laser incidents are so frequent and it is rare to apprehend the perpetrators.

A radio station public service announcement has been produced and aired by radio station NJ 101.5. It warns listeners not to aim at aircraft.

From NBC New York and New Jersey 101.5

UK: CAA issues Safety Notice to pilots, after 2,300 laser attacks in 2011

The Civil Aviation Authority issued Safety Notice SN-2012/005, containing recommendations regarding operational safety to counter laser attacks, on April 13 2012.

Below are highlights from the document, which gives some background information and statistics, and then describes how affected crew should prepare for and react to a laser attack. (Emphasis in bold added by LaserPointerSafety.com.)
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UK: Eye test for pilots available from CAA website

The U.K. Civil Aviation Authority have produced an “Aviation Laser Exposure Self-Assessment”, to be used by persons exposed to laser light. It was developed for the CAA’s medical department by Stephanie Waggel, of George Washington University.

The ALESA card is available in hard copy, and can also be downloaded from CAA’s website. If downloaded, the Amsler Grid on the first page should be printed so it is 10 x 10 cm.

Pic 2012-04-10 at 9.36.25 AMPic 2012-04-10 at 9.37.22 AM
Click for PDF version from CAA ALESA webpage

When staring at the dot in the center of the grid, if the lines appear distorted or there are blank or faded areas, there may be a problem. The person is encouraged to remove themselves from aviation-related duties such as flying or air traffic control, and to see an eye specialist.

The second page has a flowchart of exposure conditions leading either to a “1” meaning unlikely eye damage or a “2” meaning eye damage possibility. If the person scores a “2”, the flowchart suggests they see an eye specialist.

From PilotWeb and the CAA ALESA webpage. The CAA press release about ALESA is here.

US: New "laser strike protection" website and training from Night Flight Concepts.

A new website has been developed to give pilots information and resources about laser illumination hazards. The site, laserstrikeprotection.com, was developed by Night Flight Concepts, which does training and consulting for night vision goggle operations.

The company also introduced the Laser Eye Protection Program training course. It is intended to “teach aircrew members the capabilities, limitations and preventative measures required to respond to a laser strike.” The cost is $125; the course takes about an hour and has a test at the end.

[Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: Pilots may also wish to review our online information from the SAE G10T and other sources on
how to recognize and recover from laser illumination incidents.]

US: Laser safety training part of UAW/GM labor pact

A new 4-year labor contract between the United Auto Workers and General Motors includes a provision for laser safety training:

Due to the potential for catastrophic injuries from lasers, the UAW bargaining team pushed hard to expedite safety training in this growing field. Within 30 days of ratification, the UAW-GM Health and Safety Training Department will schedule a train-the-trainer (T3) Laser Safety Awareness Training course to be taught at the CHR [UAW-GM Center for Human Resources].

From the UAW GM Report via DetroitNews.com