Lasers are everywhere. They allow us to listen to a CD, scan our purchases at the checkout counter and then, there is the omnipresent laser pointer. As adults we know not to shine these devices into anyone’s eyes, but what about lasers in the hands of children?
In the U.S., toys are generally overseen by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). However, all lasers, whether wielded by a surgeon, used to cut metal, or sitting atop a child’s toy, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This week the FDA issued a statement on laser toy safety, warning parents of potential health risks including: serious eye injuries and even blindness. Anyone in the room when a laser is used may be harmed, including pets. These injuries often manifest over time and are not readily apparent.
What You Should Know
- Never aim or shine a laser directly at anyone, including animals. The light energy from a laser aimed into the eye can cause injuries, perhaps even more than staring directly into the sun.
- Do not aim a laser at any reflective surface.
- Remember that the startling effect of a bright beam of light can cause serious accidents when aimed at a driver in a car or otherwise negatively affect someone who is engaged in an activity (such as playing sports).
Current FDA regulations do not specifically address children’s toy laser products.
According to Dan Hewett, health promotion officer at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), “For toys to be considered minimal risk, we recommend that the levels of radiation and light not exceed the limits of Class 1, which is the lowest level in regulated products.” He explained that lasers used for industrial and other purposes often require higher radiation levels. But in toys, those levels are not only unnecessary, they are also potentially dangerous.
Right now, there is no mandatory labeling to consumers how intense a toy laser beam may be; although, some manufacturers do voluntarily reveal this information. To prevent injuries, the FDA urges parents to look for a statement on the label that a laser toy “complies with 21 CFR (the Code of Federal Regulations) Subchapter J.” Such devices do not exceed the Class 1 limits.
The agency warned parents not to assume a laser is safe just because it is promoted as a plaything. Common types of laser toys include:
- Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming
- Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin
- Hand-held lasers used during play as “lightsabers”
- Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room
The FDA recently issued a proposed rule that would define children’s toy laser products and require them to be within International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Class 1 emission limits. While this rulemaking process is ongoing, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health encourages manufacturers to keep children’s toy laser products within IEC Class 1 emission limits in order to minimize the risk they pose to this vulnerable population.
“Laser Toys Are Dangerous for Kids, FDA Says”, by Mandy Velez, The Huffington Post, August 6, 2013.