Laser pointers

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What is a laser pointer?

A laser pointer is a small hand held tool that produces a thin beam of light which appears as a small dot on a surface.  Battery-operated laser pointers are sometimes used as aids in conferences and lectures.

How may a child be injured?

Eye injury

Children may receive injuries by staring directly at the laser, staring at the laser reflected off a mirror or another injury as a result of being distracted by the laser.

A laser’s bright flash is likely to cause distraction and may cause temporary blindness and ‘after-images’ if the beam of a laser pointer is directed toward the eye.  This may also result in permanent eye damage. 1

How common are these injuries?

Children and adults are known to have sustained permanent eye damage as a result of the inappropriate use of laser pointers. A letter published in a medical journal in 2010 reported on the case of teenager who purchased a laser pointer over the internet and shone the beam into his eye, resulting in damage to his retina. 2

There are no recent published statistics available on the incidence of laser pointer injuries in Australia.

Is there a Law or an Australian Standard for laser pointers?

The Fair Trading (Product Safety Standards) Amendment (Laser Pointers) Regulation 1999 (NSW) was made under the Fair Trading Act 1987 and refers to the AS/NZS 2211.1: 1997 – Laser safety. This legislation restricts the supply of certain laser pointers that can cause serious eye injury. A supplier must be able to produce a test certificate for all laser pointers they sell. Laser pointers can only be a Class 1 or Class 2 laser product. The higher the class number, the greater the chance of injury.1

By law, laser pointers cannot be designed to depict or resemble a gun whether or not it is realistic or designed as a toy or novelty. The law also prohibits toy or novelty guns to which a laser pointer is attached or part of.

According to the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 (NSW) and the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Cth), if a laser pointer has a power output of more than 1 milliwatt (mW), it is a prohibited weapon. However, some laser pointers have been found to have a higher power output than what the label says.1,3,4

Pointing a laser at an aircraft can attract penalties of two years in jail and/or a fine of up to $8,500 under the  Civil Aviation Act 1988 (Cth).

Remember

It is recommended that you do not allow your child to use laser pointers.

If you decide to let your child use a laser pointer, please consider the safety advice below:

  • Ensure that laser pointers are used only under adult supervision.
  • Make sure children never look directly into the beam of a laser.
  • Make sure children never view a laser pointer using an optical instrument, such as binoculars or a microscope.
  • No one should point a laser beam at another person.
  • No one should point a laser beam at a moving vehicle or aircraft.
  • Make sure no one points a laser beam at a reflective surface, such as a mirror or other shiny surface.
  • Do not purchase or use a laser pointer that has a power output greater than one milliwatt (mW).1
  • Be careful of products purchased from overseas which may have much higher output levels.
  • Remove the batteries of laser pointers when not in use, to avoid unsupervised use by children.
  • Check for products that have been recalled (www.recalls.gov.au) prior to buying or borrowing an item for use with your child.

References

1. Health Protection Agency UK (2014) Laser radiation: safety advice. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/laser-radiation-safety-advice/laser-radiation-safety-advice

2. Wyrsch S, Baenninger PB, Schmid MK. Retinal injuries from a handheld laser pointer. N Engl J Med 2010;363:1089–1091

3. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (2011) Post Implementation Review: Restriction on the Importation of Handheld Laser Pointers. Amendment to the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956.

4. Lee, G.D., Lally, D.R. (2015) Laser pointer retinal injuries: Injury from laser pointer trauma is a public health problem on the rise. Retina Trauma.