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Spain: 10,000 pointers seized during 2013 in Balearic Islands

During 2013, approximately 10,000 laser pointers were seized in the Balearic Islands. Of these, 1,613 were said to be “high-powered” lasers.

The four Mediterranean islands of Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentara are popular tourist destinations and are the largest of the group. They are administered as a province of Spain.

The seizures began after authorities discovered laser pointers being sold that were unsafe and/or not labeled according to regulations. Also, pilots were reporting that lasers were being aimed to try to blind the aviators.

Officers from the Directorate General of Public Health and Consumption, the Customs and Border Patrol from the Guardia Civil, and La Palma Local Police inspected the origin and labeling of laser pointers being sold in stores.

Laser pointers are only allowed in toys if they are Class 1 (less than 1 milliwatt) and there is a sign warning parents.

Class 2 laser pointers, between 1 and 5 milliwatts, are for professional use only. Lasers above 5 mW are not allowed to be sold and their use is limited.

From the EuroWeeklyNews

US: FDA asks Customs' help on illegal imports of laser pointers

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking U.S. Customs and Border Protection to notify it of all importations of laser products, including small, personal packages sent by postal mail and courier services. FDA suspects that lasers over 5 mW are being illegally sent in packages with labels such as “flashlight” and “toy”. This evades the FDA’s import declaration Form 2877 as well as Customs’ Section 321 allowing duty-free entry of shipments for one person on one day, valued at less than $200.

Using Form 2877, the importer must submit information on each shipment and must affirm that the products comply (or do not comply) with FDA laser regulatory standards. But if a small package omits Form 2877 and is mislabeled (not using the word “laser”), this is an attempt to evade FDA and Customs. FDA specifically notes that such single-package Section 321-type imports do not meet the FDA’s criteria for enforcement discretion for personal importation.

Lasers that FDA is interested in include laser pointers, laser gun sights, laser levels, laser light shows, laser pointer key chains, veterinary laser products, laser illuminators and similar products. If a shipment does not meet FDA requirements, it can then be detained by the FDA and would not be allowed into the country.

From STR Trade Report. Thanks to New Aje Lasers for bringing this to our attention.

US: Amazon.com tightens rules for laser pointer sales

Amazon.com has recently tightened its rules for selling laser pointers and related products. This comes after studies showing Amazon and other online retailers were selling lasers which were often far above the claimed power. For example, a December 2012 study tested 24 laser pointers purchased on Amazon. Although they were advertised as being 5 mW or less, the average power was 41 mW.

The new Amazon.com policy requires pre-approval of laser pointers and related products. The products are limited to Class 3R (5 mW) or less and must be branded; examples include Kensington, Quartet, 3M and Logitech. Products must have a testing report from Intertek, UL or SGS.

It is not known if this is a U.S.-only policy or if it extends to other non-U.S. Amazon sites.
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US: FDA proposes amending Federal laser manufacturer regulations

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing to amend the Federal Performance Standard for Laser Products (21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11). FDA says the changes are intended to 1) put U.S. standards closer to international IEC 60825 standards, 2) to help manufacturers lower costs, 3) to improve FDA’s effectiveness in regulating laser products and 4) to better protect and promote the public health.

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.
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UK: Seizure of 7,000+ laser pointers illustrates control problems

In 2011, the U.K. Health Protection Agency analyzed samples of laser pointers seized from one company suspected of import violations. HPA found that 96% of the working pointers were above the U.K.’s legal power limit of 1 milliwatt.

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.
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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: Government agency finds most laser pointers they purchased are overpowered

Researchers at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology conducted precision tests on 122 laser pointers, most purchased online. Ninety percent of the green lasers, and 44 percent of red lasers did not comply with U.S. safety regulations. Green pointers often emitted dangerous invisible infrared radiation, in addition to the visible green light.

The findings were made public at a March 20 2013 meeting of the International Laser Safety Conference.

Researcher Joshua Hadler designed the measurement device to be accurate, inexpensive and easy-to-use. It would cost roughly $2000 in equipment costs to make a copy of the NIST device; plans are available from NIST for interested parties.

From a NIST press release, March 20 2013.
Click here for the full press release:
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Australia: Ban on laser pointers has been a "detriment" to safety

A scientific paper published in March 2013, which analyzed laser pointers purchased in Australia, has concluded that the country's stringent laws against lasers may have backfired: "...the prohibition laws may have detrimentally affected laser pointer safety within Australia without overtly impacting availability....the one thing more hazardous than a correctly labelled high power laser pointer is a high power laser pointer labelled as safe."

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.
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UK: UPDATED - Selling illegal laser pens could net a 3-month sentence for UK man

A man who sold hundreds of lasers, illegal under British law, was in court facing a possible three-month sentence for “supplying lasers and other goods that flouted safety regulations.”

33-year-old Techyun Hii ran Sky Laser Pointers from his home in Ribbleton, a suburb of Preston, Lancashire. In 2011, Lancashire Trading Standards officials found he had lasers that were up to 150 milliwatts, substantially over the U.K. limit of 1 milliwatts for laser pens sold to the public through an eBay store. Three packages were being sent to Greece, just before the Greek riots. He had been warned twice before about U.K. laws and his obligations.

In April 2012, investigators placed a test purchase which led to Hii’s arrest. He pleaded guilty to five counts of selling illegal goods, and will be sentenced July 4 2012.

From the Lancashire Evening Post

UPDATED November 25 2012: Hii was sentenced to a 180 day jail term, suspended for 18 months and was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work. The lasers sere destroyed by burning them in a hospital’s furnace. From the Lancashire Evening Post.

UPDATED March 22 2013: The case was the subject of a paper in the Proceedings of the 2013 International Laser Safety Conference, “Laser Product Assessment for Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service” by John O’Hagan, Michael Higlett and Marina Khazova, pp. 181-188. A summary of the paper is here at LaserPointerSafety.com.

South Africa: 181 laser incidents in 2+ years

There have been 181 laser/aircraft incidents recorded in South Africa, from January 1 2010 to February 29 2012, according to the Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS). Cape Town International Airport recorded 106 of these events, followed by Lanseria with 21 incidents, and OR Tambo and East London tying at 14 incidents each.

On March 25 2012, an ATNS statement noted that air traffic control towers have been illuminated by laser light, in addition to airplanes and helicopters. ATNS said there have been at least two arrests, but thus far, no prosecutions.

South African aviation groups are joining together to publicize the hazards and penalties of aiming lasers at aircraft. They are also considering strengthening laws. According to the statement, laser ownership requires a permit, but illegal sales are taking place via imports and black market stores.

From The Star via Independent Online, News 24, and the Daily News. Thanks to Dr. Ian Powell for bringing this to our attention. The ATNS press release is after the link (click “Read More…”).
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UAE: Laser pointers seized, destroyed in Dubai

Officials from Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) seized “laser-pointer items” being sold at one or more local markets, according to the newspaper Emirat Alyoum. The lasers were among items such as lighters shaped as pistols and inflatable toys said to be a threat to security and to health. The laser could cause burns to the body and “is prohibited trading in general, affecting the navigational systems for aircraft”, according to a DED director. He warned dealers against importing or marketing such items, saying violators could be fined and even shut down if they are caught again.

The newspaper report did not have specifics about the lasers’ numbers, power, color, etc.

From Emirat Alyoum. English-language reports from Emirates 24/7 and Bikya Masr.

US: FDA updates "Red List" of banned laser importers and products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an update to its Import Alert document, also known as the “Red List”. This is a list of importers whose products do not comply with U.S. laser performance standards and/or FDA reporting requirements. Reasons for detaining a product include:

  1. The laser product does not have a permanently attached warning logotype label;
  2. The laser product output exceeds 5 milliwatts;
  3. The laser product fails to contain certification or identification information either on the product or in the instructions for use;
  4. The laser product fails to contain instructions for safe use;
  5. The product class or output information on the laser product's warning logotype label is different from that in the instructions for use; and/or
  6. A product report for the laser product has not been submitted.

Products which can be Detained Without Physical Examination (DWPE) include laser pointers, laser gunsights, laser pens, laser light show projectors, laser special effects, laser levels, toy guns with lasers, laser pointer key chains, and similar products.

It is unclear what effect the FDA’s import restrictions have on supplies. For example, the well-known company Wicked Lasers is listed multiple times as being banned from importing “All laser products and all products containing lasers.” However, a company representative on December 22 said that Wicked does ship to the U.S. and there should be “no issues getting a laser into the U.S.”

Violating companies are listed as follows.

  • Canada: 2 companies shipping from a total of 3 addresses
  • China: 51 companies shipping from a total of 57 addresses
  • Hong Kong: 9 companies shipping from a total of 9 addresses
  • Japan: 1 company shipping from a total of 2 addresses
  • Taiwan: 25 companies shipping from a total of 28 addresses
  • United Kingdom: 1 company shipping from 1 address

From the December 20 2011 update to the FDA Red List

US: 3 sheriff's officers charged with illegal laser sales

Three officers in the Lake County (Indiana) Sheriff’s Department were indicted for illegally reselling laser sights and machine gun parts that are restricted for law enforcement use only. The officers resigned, accepted responsibility, and entered into a plea agreement announced September 22 2011.

92 laser sights and 74 automatic machine guns were ordered between Sept. 2008 and January 2010 on Lake County letterhead and purchase orders. The officers paid for the products with personal funds. The amount earned from Internet resales was not stated, although the three officers were also indicted for understating their personal income by a total of $387,000.

The laser products came from Insight Technology Inc. and Laser Devices Inc. The 92 restricted laser sights were purchased for approximately $1000 to $1400 each and were sold on eBay for around $2800 to $4200 each. A special agent of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (which regulates laser devices) made an undercover purchase as part of the evidence-gathering process in the case.Click to read more...