30th November 2018

The growing danger of laser pointers

Laser pointers can cause permanent damage, but they’re getting easier to buy – and misuse


By Amy Schofield
Freelance writer for JTS
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The damage caused by a laser pointer in some cases has led to severe vision loss and sight-threatening conditions

This article was sponsored by the Office for Product Safety & Standards

In 2016, a leading eye specialist called for laser pointers to be classed as ‘offensive weapons’ and banned from online sale after it was revealed that at least 47 UK children had suffered permanent eye damage — including blindness — from hand-held laser pointers within the last four years. But these laser pointers, although illegal in the UK, can cheaply and easily be bought online or overseas by anyone, including children.

Laser pointers should never be bought for or used by children, but they have become increasingly popular with this age group. Laser pointers are not toys – they are high-powered devices that can cause serious eye injuries.
As laser pointers become both cheaper and more powerful, concerns have grown over their sale and use. Many of these products are freely available online and are not covered by the strict safety rules and regulations of the EU. Often, neither children nor parents are aware of the risks posed by laser pointers.

According to Robert Chantry-Price, CTSI Lead Officer for Product Safety, consumers are taking dangerous risks in buying these devices: “The biggest problem is that many of these products can be purchased via the internet and are sourced from businesses outside the EU. As a consequence, they may not have been tested for their safety,” he explains. “In these circumstances the consumer has little redress should they prove to be dangerous.”

Thanks to incorrect or fake labelling, a laser pointer could be more powerful – and more dangerous – than the description on the label suggests. “My colleague at PROSAFE [Product Safety Forum of Europe, which works to improve the safety of users of products and services in Europe] undertook a market surveillance exercise on laser pointers three years ago, and was alarmed to discover that many of the items on sale were more powerful than the power rating displayed on the product itself,” says Chantry-Price.

A Government Call for Evidence on understanding the market for laser pointers ran from 12 August until 6 October 2017. It sought evidence on the nature and scale of hazards associated with the use of laser pointers and how these could be addressed. Responses from stakeholders including ophthalmologists, pilots, trading standards authorities and professional laser safety advisors showed that there are two types of laser pointer hazards:

01. Permanent damage to eyesight from retinal burns caused by high powered laser pointers, mainly in children.

02. Risk to flight safety when a pilot is dazzled or distracted by a laser pointer attack, from laser pointers of any power.

According to the report, the damage caused by a laser pointer in some cases has led to severe vision loss and sight-threatening conditions. This damage predominantly affects children and young people under 20. Children are at greater risk of laser pointer injuries than adults as they don’t understand the dangers of these powerful devices and may not blink or turn their eyes away if the laser shines in their eyes. These terrifying consequences are the reality of buying cheap laser pointers.

Lasers are not toys. They can permanently damage eyes. Keep an eye on what your child is buying online and when on holiday abroad, watch out for street sellers hawking lasers. Also look out for false labelling – imported devices are often labelled with fake information.

If your child already owns a laser pointer, there’s a real risk they could cause permanent eyesight damage to themselves or someone else. Throw the laser away – it’s the safest thing to do. Check with your local council for the right disposal facilities, remove the batteries and dispose of it responsibly.

For more advice, visit the Office for Product Safety & Standards

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