Hand-held laser pointers are quite useful during presentations or when you need to direct someone’s attention to a particular place with a narrow, bright beam of light. Poorly-made laser pointers can be dangerous, according to a Safety and Occupational Health Specialist with Combat Capabilities Development Command, Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Center (C5ISR).
Ron Myers said that the high energy produced by lasers is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and is required by law to have a label listing its safety class based on potential injury to eyes or skin.
“Most laser pointers should be labeled as Class 1 or Class 2 pointers, meaning they are ‘eye safe’ because of the wavelength used, and won’t cause eye damage,” he said. “Chinese-made laser pointers can be improperly labeled,” indicating it is safe, when the power output could be blinding.
To illustrate this, Myers used a testing instrument in the laser laboratory on Fort Belvoir, and holding a small imported pointer, he shone the laser beam into a small port. Despite the label showing an output of just 5 milliwatts, the readout varied from 50 to 70 milliwatts, which is a violation of U.S. law. U.S. Customs inspectors confiscate such devices if testing shows non-compliance, but the volume of cargo arriving on our shores means dangerous, mislabeled devices still get through.
“The problem is that people buy these for their kids, and they play with their pets and even point them at friends,” Myers said. With laser pointers this powerful, “you don’t have a fast enough blink reflex to avert your gaze and avoid possible eye damage. Just a momentary glance at them can cause permanent damage.”
It is not only the direct laser beam that can be hazardous, but also its reflection off white boards or other smooth surfaces that could bounce back unintentionally into someone’s eye.
Myers offers several suggestions for safe usage:
- Only buy a laser pointer made in the United States.
- Make sure it is labeled as Class I, Class II or Class IIIR.
- Do not buy one for your children; they are not toys.
- Only allow a child to use a one with continuous adult supervision.
If you possess a laser pointer that is extraordinarily bright, and made overseas, Myers advises you to be safe. Remove the batteries, destroy it, and replace it with one made in the USA.
Myers said that this is one accident risk that is completely avoidable.
“They’re out there, they’re made cheaply, and they can do serious damage.”