The misuse of laser pointers (sometimes referred to as laser pens) as reported in the press has generated considerable public and Ministerial concern over the safety of these devices. As a reminder to businesses in respect of their responsibilities around the general product safety and classification of laser pointers the following information may be of value.
Laser pointers are small devices with a power source that projects a narrow laser beam that is useful for pointing. They can come with various beam colours and they are used as a way to point to objects that are out of reach. Typically, the human eye can only see the dot at the end of the laser beam displayed on what it is pointing at. However, high-frequency lasers that are colored sometimes have visible beams. These higher-powered lasers are typically used for astronomical classes to point out stars, or by astrology enthusiasts.
Laser pointers have many purposes. In the classroom teachers can use them for lectures. They can be a signaling tool in search and rescue missions as well as an astrological research tool. They are also helpful for large seminars to help draw people's attention to information. Recently, the low costs of the lasers has made them popular as toys among children and teens which has led to the lasers being used in ways that were not intended by the manufacturers.
On the 5 February 2017 the Department for Transport announced that under the proposed Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill 2017, that people convicted of shining lasers at pilots, train or bus drivers could face heavy fines or a jail sentence. To see the press release go to DfT
On the 8 January 2018 the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a new tactical approach to dealing with the supply of laser pointers, which includes including strengthening safeguards to stop high-powered lasers entering the country. To see the press release go to BEIS.
On the 12 August 2017, the Government published a consultation which calls for evidence covering the misuse of laser pointers, particularly the safety issues involving 'laser attacks' on pilots and lorry drivers. The consultation is now closed.
The following laser classification scheme is taken from BS EN 60825-1.
Class 1 lasers are products where the radiant power of the laser beam accessible (the accessible emission) is always below or equal to the Maximum Permissible Exposure value. Therefore, for these lasers the output power is below the level at which it is believed eye damage will occur. Exposure to the beam of a Class 1 laser will not result in eye injury. Class 1 lasers may therefore be considered safe. However, Class 1 laser products may contain laser systems of a higher Class but there are adequate engineering control measures to ensure that access to the beam is not reasonably likely during normal use. Examples of such products include laser printers and compact disc players.Class 1M lasers are products which produce either a highly divergent beam or a large diameter beam. Therefore, only a small part of the whole laser beam can enter the eye. However, these laser products can be harmful to the eye if the beam is viewed using magnifying optical instruments. Some of the lasers used for fibre-optic communication systems are Class 1M laser products.
Class 2 are limited to a maximum output power of 1 milliwatt, one-thousandth of a watt (abbreviated to mW) and the beam must have a wavelength between 400 and 700 nm. A person receiving an eye exposure from a Class 2 laser beam, either accidentally or as a result of someone else’s deliberate action (misuse) will be protected from injury by their own natural aversion response. This is a natural involuntary response which causes the individual to blink and avert their head thereby terminating the eye exposure. Repeated, deliberate exposure to the laser beam may not be safe. Some laser pointers and barcode scanners are Class 2 laser products.
Class 2M lasers are products which produce either a highly divergent beam or a large diameter beam in the wavelength range 400 to 700 nm. Therefore, only a small part of the whole laser beam can enter the eye and this is limited to 1 mW, similar to a Class 2 laser product. However, these products can be harmful to the eye if the beam is viewed using magnifying optical instruments or for long periods of time. Some lasers used for civil engineering applications, such as level and orientation instruments are Class 2M laser products.
Class 3R lasers are higher powered devices than Class 1 and Class 2 and may have a maximum output power of 5 mW or 5 times the AEL for a Class 1 product. The laser beams from these products exceed the maximum permissible exposure for accidental viewing and can potentially cause eye injuries, although the risk of injury is still low. Examples of Class 3R products include some laser pointers and some alignment products used for home improvement work.
Class 3B lasers may have an output power of up to 500 mW (half a watt). Class 3B lasers may have sufficient power to cause an eye injury, both from the direct beam and from reflections. The higher the output power of the device the greater the risk of injury. Class 3B lasers are therefore considered hazardous to the eye. However, the extent and severity of any eye injury arising from an exposure to the laser beam of a Class 3B laser will depend upon several factors including the radiant power entering the eye and the duration of the exposure. Examples of Class 3B products include lasers used for physiotherapy treatments and many research lasers.
Class 3B lasers are not suitable for general use by consumers.
Class 4 lasers have an output power greater than 500 mW (half a watt). There is no upper restriction on output power. Class 4 lasers are capable of causing injury to both the eye and skin and will also present a fire hazard if sufficiently high output powers are used. Lasers used for many laser displays, laser surgery and cutting metals may be Class 4 products.Class 4 lasers are not suitable for use by consumers.
Laser Products Marketed As Toys
The guidance from PHE colleagues, is that if a laser product is marketed as a toy, it should comply with BS EN 62115, which requires toys containing lasers to be Class 1 under all conditions, including when broken. This is a much tighter requirement than in the general laser product safety standard. Therefore, use of the definitions from our web site notice, or from the summary I provided, is misleading. Under BS EN 60825-1, a Class 1 laser product can contain a much higher class – up to Class 4 – laser, provided it is safe under reasonably foreseeable single fault conditions (and no-one dismantles it). This is not permitted for toys. There are also issues in terms of dazzle, distraction and glare, which are not addressed by the standards.
Laser Pointer Safety Tips
It is recognised that lasers can cause damage to the eyes, and they can indirectly be hazardous in many ways. These important safety tips will assist consumers be safe when using laser pointers.
Don't Use Laser Pointers Without Labels
Imported lasers can be far more dangerous because they are higher-powered and they typically have no labels on them to indicate the wavelengths and wattage. If a label has been peeled off or a laser pointer never had one, the best decision is to discard the device to avoid any accidents.
Don't Point Laser Beams at Faces or Eyes
Laser beams can damage the retinas. The amount of damage will depend on how long the laser is shined into the eye, the power of the beam, and the distance from the pointer. However, even a low powered laser can cause temporary blind spots whether the eye is permanently damaged or not. In order for a beam to do permanent damage to the eyes, it has to be over 500 mW. The chance of a laser beam of this calibre being sold to the public is minimal but still possible. This is why it is important to read labels and then take further measures by never pointing a laser at anyone's face or eyes.
Don't Point Laser Pointers at Aircraft
This may seem like an obvious thing not to do, but it happens both intentionally and accidentally. Most people do not realize that even a lower - powered laser pointer can travel up to 2.2 miles before fading out. People have been arrested for shining laser pointers into the eyes of pilots. In addition to this, just shining a pointer onto the aircraft itself is hazardous.
Don't Point Laser Pointers at Vehicles
Because laser pointers can cause temporary blindness or blind spots, it is extremely dangerous to point the laser anywhere near vehicles. If the beam happens to catch a driver in the eye, the driver could lose the ability to see where he or she is going, or the driver could accidentally jerk the wheel to the side when he or she reflexively jumps from the beam.
Don't Hold a Laser Beam on the Skin
A powerful laser pointer with 200 to 300 mW can be felt on the skin if it is held in place for a length of time. With a 500 mW beam, a person would experience a slight burning sensation if the laser is left pointed at the skin for a time. Acquiring a laser beam with this much wattage would be difficult, but it is still best to avoid any lasers without labels for this reason.
Don't Point Lasers at Animals for Any Reason
Some people like to play games with their animals by getting them to chase the laser beam. While this may seem fun, it is very easy to accidentally shine the beam into the animal's eyes. Also, never use a laser pointer to try and scatter unwanted animals. This is especially important with birds. Temporarily blinding a bird can make it fall and get injured. In addition to this, pointing a laser beam up at birds could inadvertently end up with the beam being pointed at a pilot.
Don't Give Laser Pointers to Children
Laser pointers pose several threats to small children. First, they are a fun toy to play with and children do not understand the dangers that can be associated with them. It is very likely that a child will shine the light in their own eyes or in someone else's. Second, most pointers are small and can turn into a choking hazard, especially if taken apart into smaller pieces.
Older children may be trusted with lower powered laser pointers if they are mature enough to understand what they can and cannot be used for. Don't encourage kids to do anything but point to objects with them.
To access the guidance notes for enforcement officers as developed nationally with Public Health England go to Guidance Notes (pdf 174 kb)
We have developed a national safety poster which can be utilised by all partners. To download a copy of the this safety poster go to Poster (pdf 99 kb)
Public Health England
Public Health England have released an advisory video on You tube
Please note: This information has no legal force and is not an authoritative interpretation of the law, which is a matter for the Courts. It is intended to help suppliers of products to understand in general terms, the main features of the legislation. The information is not a substitute for the legislation and you should refer to the text of the legislation for a full statement of legal requirements and obligations. Where appropriate, you should seek your own independent legal advice.
For any information, contact the Trading Standards Service, Public Safety, Regulation and Development, City of Newcastle upon Tyne, Civic Centre, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8QH.
Phone: 0191 2116121