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Green lasers - responsible use and registration  @psychohistorian.org

Green lasers - responsible use and registration

posted: 2661 days ago, on Tuesday, 2010 Nov 09 at 17:40
tags: astronomy, outreach, observing equipment, astronomy media, ASSA, ASSA Cape Centre, ASSA Pretoria Centre.

Green laser pointers have become an indispensable tool for astronomers giving a guided sky tour, and are very useful for telescopic observers for locating and pointing out targets of interest. Unfortunately, incidents of irresponsible laser use have occurred, as reported here and elsewhere.

During the 2010 ASSA Symposium (Oct 7-9, Pretoria) a group of astronomers and other interested parties discussed the use of these lasers, with special reference to their legal status.

Recommendations and points for discussion were published on the ASSA Pretoria Centre's website (laser safety page) and input from the broader astronomical community encouraged.

On October 27, Andrie van der Linde, one of the laser-safety campaigners, gave a talk to the ASSA Cape Centre to share some of the thoughts and concerns expressed during the special meeting in Pretoria. What follows are my notes of his presentation.

Legal matters

Hazardous Substances Act No. 15 of 1973

To provide for the control of substances which may cause injury or ill-health to or death of human beings by reason of their toxic, corrosive, irritant, strongly sensitizing or flammable nature of the generation of pressure thereby in certain circumstances and for the control of certain electronic products.

To provide for the division of such substances or products into groups in relation to the degree of danger.

To provide for the prohibition and control of the importation, manufacture, sale, use, operation, application, modification, disposal or dumping of such substances and products.

(read the full Act)

Schedule of Listed Products

Regulation No. R. 1302, 14 June 1991 (Hazardous Substances Act, No. 15 of 1973)

Any electronic product emitting coherent electromagnetic radiation produced by stimulated emission, namely all laser products that emit radiation in excess of 0.8 x 10-9 watt in the wavelength region up to and including 400 nm or that emit radiation in excess of 0.39 x 10-6 watt* in the wavelength region greater than 400 nm.

(download the Regulation)

*This is about 1000x weaker than a 5mW laser pointer.

Laser classes

Class 1. Safe for all conceivable circumstances (incl. totally enclosed Class 4)
Class 1(M): Safe unless optical if optical magnifiers used
Class 2: Visible lasers with 1 mW limit
Class 3R: < 5 mW. Continuous wave/visible (safe for accidental eye exposure)
Class 3B: < 500 mW (unsafe for eyes under all conditions. Safe for direct skin exposure and for diffused exposure of eyes)
Class 4: Unsafe for eyes, skin and diffused reflections. Fire hazard.

Present status: licensing as importer

  1. licensed at no cost
  2. attitude is to help, not to punish
  3. licensing criteria may change
  4. procedure may be privatised

Suggested categories of green laser pointer users

  1. General public (99% toy; astronomy incidental)
  2. Novice astronomer (80% curiosity; 20% tool)
  3. Amateur astronomer (tool; 1-on-1 to 1-on-5 e.g. to show family and friends)
  4. Presenting astronomer (tool, for small/large groups)

Suggested recommendation

  1. General public: < 5 mW
  2. Novice astronomer: < 5 mW
  3. Amateur astronomer: < 5 mW
  4. Presenting astronomer: < 20 mW (provide proof of association and motivation)
  5. Presenting astronomer: < 50 mW (provide proof of association and motivation for large group use)
  6. Presenting astronomer: > 50 mW (special motivation)

Suggestions for approved organisations

  1. ASSA (National body and Centres)
  3. Universities
  4. SANParks (game parks)
  5. Astronomy tourism ("Astronomy Africa")

Suggestions for implementation

  1. Encourage ASSA members to register their lasers (and themselves as Laser Safety Officers) at the Department of Health
  2. Only authority to enforce rules at ASSA-organized events (e.g. ScopeX, star parties, viewing evenings)
  3. Organisers to consider:
    accountability of the Event Organizer under Occupational Health and Safety Act; the EO is responsible if there should be an incident.
    lasers have to be registered at Dept of Health
    limit power output (even < 1mW at dark sky evening)
    confiscation/safe keeping of non-compliant lasers
    confiscation/safe keeping of lasers used in irresponsible manner
  4. Interaction with the Dept. of Health to decide approved organisations & evaluate special motivation
  5. Request feedback from astronomy fraternity

Recommendation: Safe practices at group events

Class 3B (> 5 mW) lasers should be used by knowledgeable astronomers under controlled circumstances.

1. do not point at people, aircraft or animals

2. keep at a suitable distance from the audience

3. warn the audience

4. area should be clear of obstacles

5. avoid surfaces that can give specular reflections

6. minimise use

7. keep away from children

8. lasers should switch off when switch is released

Get legal: A quick guide to registration

I asked Johan Uys of the Department of Health for straight answers to some burning questions:

1. I have a green laser pointer. How do I know if it is legal?

"You could ask the dealer/importer (where you bought the laser pointer) for the import licence number of the device as issued by the Directorate: Radiation Control or you could contact me, Johan Uys on tel. no. 021-9577450."

2. How do I register my laser? (I know who the importer is)

"Any Class 3B or Class 4 laser system must also be licensed for use. Contact me to acquire the application form"

Or you can download the form as a PDF: Form SBLN-1 - Application for licence to use a non-medical laser.

3. How do I register my laser? (I don't know who the importer is)

"If it is a Class 3B laser pointer used only by a "presenting astronomer", then contact me as indicated above."

4. What is a Laser Safety Officer?

"A Laser Safety Officer (LSO) is any person who has authority to monitor and enforce the control of laser hazards and has the responsibility for oversight of the control of laser hazards. The "presenting astronomer" will be the LSO but in the medical field where for example a laser is used for surgery or in an industrial situation, the LSO could be the surgeon, industrial hygienist, radiation protection officer, safety engineer, laser specialist, laser operator, etc."

5. I want to register as a Laser Safety Officer. What do I do?

Contact Johan Uys on tel. no. 021-9577450.


  1. Hazardous Substances Act No. 15 of 1973
  2. Regulation No. R. 1302, 14 June 1991
  3. Form SBLN-1 - Application for licence to use a non-medical laser

nothing more to see. please move along.

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