The purpose of this guidance is to prevent startle hazard, temporary flash-blindness, after-images, glare responses, and permanent eye damage caused by unsafe use of laser pointers.
A laser pointer is a handheld battery-operated device with a momentary on–off switch that produces a small dot of light on an object at which it is aimed. Commercial laser pointers are most commonly designed to assist speakers in classroom or conference room presentations. A laser pointer can draw an audience’s attention to a particular key point in a slide show, in laboratories and technical areas, and overhead during audits, and can be used to trace from a distance pipes and conduits at construction sites and for alignment of other lasers or as aiming devices for firearms.
Laser pointers are effective tools when used properly. Users of laser pointers should be aware of the potential hazards and follow the recommended safety precautions. Momentary exposure from a laser pointer might occur from an inadvertent sweep of the light across a person’s eyes, and may cause temporary effects such as startling effects, glare, after-image, and flash blindness. Flash blindness can be particularly dangerous if the exposed person is engaged in a vision-critical activity, such as driving or flying an aircraft.
All laser pointers sold in the United States must be below five milliwatt (mW) in power. Unfortunately, anyone can buy a laser that exceeds 5 mW and be unaware that the device is not FDA‐compliant. The higher power devices resemble, are marketed as, and are priced close to lower power laser pointers. A 50‐mW green laser pointer can easily be found on the Internet for $10. At this power, even a quick sweep across an eye can be hazardous.
If you suspect that your purchased laser pointer is of a higher power than its marking on the label or that the laser pointer might be emitting infrared light (green pointer), contact the Berkeley Lab Laser Safety Officer (LSO) to have it measured and evaluated.
Laser Pointer Safety Guidelines
Berkeley Lab allows the use of Class 1, 2, and 3a or 3R laser pointers in the visible range with an output of up to 5 mW. The use of any other class laser pointer will need the prior approval of the LSO. The Work Planning and Control (WPC) Activity Manager has a hazard related to the use of laser pointers. The person using a laser pointer to present or hosting an event in a conference room that is using a laser pointer should add that hazard to their general activity. The hazard will list the controls for safe use of the pointer. The conference room does not need to be authorized under the WPC, and laser pointers are exempt from the area posting requirement.
All laser pointer users are expected to follow the following safe laser practices:
- Do not intentionally stare into the laser beam.
- Do not intentionally aim the pointer beam at another person, particularly in the face.
- Direct the beam toward the screen or item and away from the audience.
- Turn the beam off when not in use.
- Do not point the laser beam at mirror-like surfaces.
- Do not use Class 3B or Class 4 lasers as laser pointers, as these are illegal in the United States.
- Verify that the laser pointer has proper warning labels applied by the manufacturer.
- Consider having the laser pointer power output tested by the LSO to verify that the laser pointer has a maximum output of 5 mW or less (the lower, the better). Be aware that laser pointers that have not been tested by the LSO may emit power levels above what is marked on the label.
Selecting a Laser Pointer
Although most commercially available laser pointers are Class 3R, consider choosing a Class 2 laser, as it has lower power emissions.
When possible, purchase red-light laser pointers, and avoid using green- or blue-light laser pointers, as these may emit invisible light in addition to the visible light if the infrared (IR) blocking filter is missing. Some commercial non-red laser pointers have been observed to be missing an IR filter, which results in dangerous emission of IR laser light unbeknownst to the user. Such laser pointers are not simple single-wavelength diode lasers but are a diode-pumped solid-state laser. A nonlinear crystal is used to generate the visible wavelength and then an IR filter must be used to block invisible IR wavelengths.
The pointer manufacturer is required by federal law (21 CFR Part 1040) to have a laser warning label on the pointer. The label must show the laser hazard symbol, laser classification, laser wavelength, and maximum power output. Laser pointers must be labeled with a CAUTION label (commercial Class 3a or 3R laser pointers may have a DANGER label, which is also acceptable).
Recommended Laser Pointers
- Logitech R500 – Professional Wireless Presentation Remote Clicker; Red light
- Class 1, Max output 0.039 mW, 640–660 nm
- Logitech R400 – Professional Wireless Presentation Remote Clicker; Red light
- Class 2, < 1 mW, 635 nm
- Logitech R800 – Professional Wireless Presentation Remote Clicker; Green light
- Class 2, Max output 1 mW, 522–542 nm
- Atlasnova – Red light
- Class 2 <1 mW or Class 3R, Max output < 5 mW, 635 nm
- Z-BOLT – Green light
- Class 2, Max output < 1 mW, 532 nm
- Z_BOLT – Red light
- Class 3R, < 5 mW, 635 nm
- Apinex JLPS-20B – Green light
- Class 3R, < 5 mW, 532 nm
Legal Implications of Laser Pointer Misuse
The California Penal Code has several sections stating that misuse of a laser pointer can be considered a misdemeanor or felony. In particular, directing any laser beam at another person may constitute assault (suggesting the use of a laser gun sight), and directing any laser beam at an aircraft may constitute malicious mischief. Conviction of assault and malicious mischief can result in fines and/or jail sentences.