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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.


An importer (trader) in Preston, Lancashire had been warned in 2007 and again in 2010 that he could only sell laser pointers of less than 1 mW to the general public. In January 2011 the Lancashire County Council Trading Service investigated a complaint and found that lasers apparently as strong as 150 mW were being sold on Amazon Marketplace and eBay. An officer was able to purchase a 150 mW laser for £39.53 (USD $65). The company was raided in June 2011 where officers found the over 7,000 assembled lasers plus parts and power supplies.

All of the lasers had been manufactured outside of the European Union. All were imported to the U.K. for sale over the Internet.

Company records showed they knew they were selling high-powered lasers. For example, an advertisement on eBay was for a 1000 milliwatt (1 Watt) blue laser, sold for burning and cutting applications. The ad indicated that 2,410 units had already been sold at a price of £248.96 (USD $400). One of the pictures in the ad showed a laser aimed directly at a riot officer during a civil disturbance. Another ad said that a 300 mW laser could be pointed from one end of Wembley Stadium to the other.


A sample of each type of laser was sent to HPA for assessment.

Based on 246 pointers measured by HPA, 27 did not work at all, 9 were under the 1 mW limit and thus legal in the U.K., and 14 were between 1 and 5 mW. (5 mW is the U.S.’s legal power limit for lasers sold as pointers.) Therefore, the 196 remaining lasers were above 5 mW. This result showed that “approximately 80% of the lasers assessed presented a risk of potential injury to users”, wrote O’Hagan.

This does not seem to be a case of “overpower” lasers, where ads claim a low power, but the laser is significantly higher power when received. Instead, the ads were for lasers of higher power such as 150 and 1000 mW. O’Hagan notes “most of the lasers produced lower powers than claimed.”

The problem instead is that 80% of all lasers, and 96% of the working lasers, were over the U.K. limit of 1 mW for laser pointers sold to the general public.

In addition to the laser testing, another agency checked the trader’s battery chargers. They were found to be unsafe as well.

From the paper “Laser Product Assessment for Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service” by John O’Hagan, Michael Higlett and Marina Khazova of the Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire, U.K. As published in the Proceedings of the 2013 International Laser Safety Conference (contact the Laser Institute of America to purchase a copy of the Proceedings), pp. 181-188.