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Laser focus on illegal imports

3 May 2022

Illegal laser pointers that are being imported into the country due to incorrect product labelling is an issue being pinpointed to Australia’s Freight and Trade Alliance this month by ARPANSA scientist Dr Chris Brzozek.  

Dr Brzozek says that in some cases, laser pointers more than 100 times the legal power limit are finding their way into consumers' hands. 

In Australia, all laser pointers that are available to the public must have a radiant power output of less than 1 milliwatt (mW).  

Anything above that is considered a prohibited weapon.  

Dr Brzozek says that unreliable specifications and deliberate misrepresentation of the output power provided at the point of sale are an increasing problem.  

A 2013 study by the University of New South Wales found that the vast majority of laser pointers in their sample, 42 out of 44, exceeded the power limit of 1mW. 

‘Our message to customs brokers, freight forwarders and the sector more broadly is to double check product labels. Laser pointers without a label or that are labelled incorrectly can be referred to the authorities,’ said Dr Brzozek. 

‘We also say to consumers to be careful - especially when laser products are used by children.’ 

Humans have a blink reflex that can protect the eye from a laser beam with a radiant power of 1mW or below. But that aversion response has limited effectiveness to prevent hazards when laser beams are above 1mW.  

‘When a laser pointer is shone into the eyes of an unsuspecting victim, it can have a ‘flash-blindness’ effect,’ said Dr Brzozek. 

‘Flashed into the eye of someone driving or operating machinery, it could result in their death. 

‘Even for people not doing safety critical activities, the injury from staring into a laser beam could include permanent damage to their eye, resulting in vision loss. 

‘Powerful laser pointers can also burn the skin.’ 

Dr Brzozek will be educating Australia’s supply-chain sector as part of a series of compliance training workshops throughout May and June. 

This work forms part of ARPANSA’s role as a health advisor working to protect people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation.  

Read more about Laser Hazards and Safety on the ARPANSA website. 

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