Laser incident and accident data sources
This page points regulators, media, researchers and others to the various databases and resources that do exist. The resources listed have information primarily from the United States. See the About this site page for credits to persons who helped compile this list.
Probably the single database containing the largest number and greatest variety of laser incidents and accidents is the one maintained by Rockwell Laser Industries. It is the first one listed below.
Definitions: incident vs. accidentHere are general definitions of the difference between an "incident" and an "accident":
• An incident is an event which potentially could have caused personal injury or property damage, but did not.
• An accident is an event which caused personal injury or property damage.
Each database listed below may have its own definitions.
Also, some sources include accidents as part of incidents (e.g., an accident is a serious incident), while other sources keep these separate for statistical purposes. So be aware that some "incident" counts may include accidents, while others may not.
For ease of discussion in the information below, we will use "incidents" generically to include both incidents and accidents.
General databases and resources
Rockwell Laser Industries - general incident database
- As a service to the laser community, Rockwell Laser Industries keeps a Laser Accident Database of incidents which were reported to them. As of September 2018 there are thousands of incidents in the database, dating from 1964 to about 2009 when new incidents were no longer published.
These have "been gathered from a broad range of sources since 1964. By studying this data, the laser community as a whole can promote the safe and knowledgeable use of lasers and prevent similar events from occurring in their own facilities. For more information about the laser accident database, please contact us via email or call an RLI representative at (800) 94-LASER."
U.S. FDA/CDRH - all databases
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the federal agency responsible for the safety of laser products, and of three laser uses (measurements, demonstrations and medical). This is regulated by FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health. You may see "FDA" and "CDRH" used interchangeably.
A list of FDA's medical and laser device databases is here.
The FDA databases that are most relevant to searches for laser incidents and accidents, including faulty laser devices, are listed elsewhere on this webpage.
U.S. FDA/CDRH - laser recall database
- FDA/CDRH's Radiation-Emitting Electronic Products Corrective Actions database provides descriptions of radiation-emitting products that have been recalled under an approved corrective action plan to remove defective and noncompliant products from the market. Searches may be done by manufacturer name, performance standard, product name, description, or date range.
FDA/CDRH regulates manufacturers of radiation-emitting electronic products under the Electronic Product Radiation Control (EPRC) provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act. EPRC authorities apply to manufacturers of radiation-emitting electronic products used both in non-medical applications (e.g., laser engravers, microwave ovens, security x-ray scanners) and medical applications (e.g., ultrasound therapy, diagnostic x-ray devices, LASIK). Manufacturers of radiation-emitting electronic products which are also medical devices are subject to both the EPRC and Medical Device authorities of the FD&C Act.
Corrective actions defined under EPRC are similar to Corrections and Removals defined in the medical device provisions of the FD&C Act, both of which are commonly known as “recalls.” Manufacturers are required to perform corrective actions on their electronic products when a radiation safety problem exists that was caused by the design, manufacturing, or assembly of the product.
When implementing corrective action, a manufacturer is required to either:
- repair the products,
- replace the products, or
- refund the cost of the products to the purchasers (and reclaim the products) without charge to the owner of the electronic product.
RESULTS FROM SEARCHING THE DATABASE
A September 2018 search of this database found 94 results containing the word "laser."
U.S. OSHA - workplace laser incidents
- The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration is the federal agency responsible for laser-related workplace incidents and accidents.
RESULTS FROM SEARCHING THE DATABASE
As of September 2018, there are 16 reports, from 1988 to 2015, with the keyword "laser" in the OSHA Fatality and Catastrophe Investigation Summaries database.
In 12 of these reports, the laser beam itself was not involved; for example, an employee was crushed in a laser machining device. The remaining 4 reports were of eye or skin injuries from contact with the beam.
U.S. CPSC - consumer product safety
- The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's Consumer Product Safety Information Database is a publicly searchable database where submitters can report to the CPSC a harm or risk of harm related to the use of a consumer product or other product or substance within the jurisdiction of the CPSC. (See here for a list of products under the jurisdiction of other federal agencies.)
Members of the public can search the database for safety information about products that are in their home already, or that they may be thinking about purchasing. Beginning March 11, 2011, reports of harm that contain minimum information required by law and that provide the submitter’s consent, will be posted in the database at www.SaferProducts.gov. The public can search the database and review reports approximately 15 business days after a report is submitted to the CPSC.
Product manufacturers (including importers) and private labelers that are identified in a report may submit comments to be displayed in the database along with the report. Information about product recalls is also available for search and review in the database.
- Due to the voluntary nature of reporting, this may not be a representative or clinically-validated sample set.
RESULTS FROM SEARCHING THE DATABASE
As of September 2018, 59 results contained the keyword "laser." In 55 of these results, the word "laser" was incidental or referred to Class 1 products with enclosed lasers such as laser printers. The following are the four cases where an exposed laser beam was believed to be unsafe:
- Report dated 11/13/2013: A parent purchased a toy gun from a circus which contained a laser; while there was no injury, the parent felt the toy was not safe.
- Report dated 11/1/2013: A pet toy has a laser beam aimed by a moving mirror so as to "play" with the pet. The consumer said the mirror could aim the beam into a pet's eyes, and claimed the laser was "dangerous to sight."
- Report dated 1/10/2012: An ink pen with stylus and laser pointer is arranged so the laser aperture faces the user when the stylus or pen is in use. The laser activation button can be pressed while in use. The person reporting said the laser shined of his cheek, "narrowly missing his eye." The manufacturer responded on 2/17/2012 that "The subject product was evaluated by an independent testing agency. Such agency concluded that the product complies with applicable laser safety specifications and regulations."
- Report dated 12/7/2011: A toy "infrared air guitar" that in a promotional YouTube video emits a visible red laser beam that is strummed to trigger notes. The consumer says the manufacturer stated there is no visible laser beam but instead a non-visible infrared beam "like a TV remote." The consumer is concerned that if it emits a laser beam this could cause temporary blindness. It is unclear whether the consumer actually had the product or was referring to the YouTube video.
ILDA - laser light shows
- The International Laser Display Association (ILDA) has a webpage with a list of laser light show incidents. ILDA also has a webpage for the general public to report laser light show incidents/injuries.
ILDA makes a distinction between incidents occurring to laser show technical staff, which usually happen very close to the laser during operation, service or maintenance, and incidents occurring to the public including audience and performers, which usually happen much farther from the laser aperture.
LaserPointerSafety.com - aviation and consumer misuse
- LaserPointerSafety.com includes statistics from the U.S. and many nations, and links to various studies about laser incidents and injuries (both aviation-related and consumer injuries).
The website also has over 1,300 news items about laser incidents. Each item is indexed under at least one category and one tag. This makes it easy to find, for example, all news items about aviation incidents that have a claim of an eye injury. A complete list of all categories and tags is on the Index to news stories (categories and tags) page.
U.S. FAA - mandatory reporting since 2004
- Since 2004, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s Advisory Circular 70-2 has required pilots to report laser illuminations of aircraft.
Past FAA reports, from 2010 to the present, are available online as Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Fields in the database as of Sept. 2018 are:
- Incident Date
- Incident Time
- Flight ID
- Aircraft Type
- Laser Color
- Injury (Yes/No). Note that "Yes" can include a headache, flashblindness or other effect that does not rise to the classic definition of an injury as involving tissue damage. The Comments field may have more specific information about the effect or injury.
- Comments (event narrative)
- FLITS ID (database ID?)
SAMPLE COMMENT (EVENT NARRATIVE)
Here is a representative listing from the Comments field, showing some of the additional information available about incidents:
- "Aircraft reported cockpit illuminated by a green LASER from the left side while N bound at 1,800 feet 3 NM S of MEM. No injuries reported. South Haven PD notified.::GJS6192, CRJ 7, ARRIVING MEMPHIS LANDING RWY 36C ENCOUNTERED LASER EVENT 3 MILES SOUTH OF AIRPORT, WAS GREEN NO INJURIES REPORTED, DEN AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES NOTIFIED, LANDED WOI [without incident]."
LIMITATIONS OF THE DATABASE
While pilots are technically required to report all laser sightings, anecdotal information indicates that — after many years of such incidents with no reduction — pilots may be reporting only more significant events. Thus, the actual number of laser/aircraft illumination incidents may be higher.
RESULTS FROM THE DATABASE
FAA laser illumination incidents rose from 46 during 2004, to 6,753 during 2017.Cumulatively, from 2004 through 2017, there are 43,469 recorded incidents in the FAA database.
Hover over or click on data points to get exact numbers. The charts will not appear if you are using Internet Explorer; please try another browser.
NASA ASRS - optional reporting since 1988
- The Aviation Safety Reporting System, which is run by NASA, collects, analyzes, and responds to voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident reports in order to lessen the likelihood of aviation accidents.
Pilots, air traffic controllers, flight attendants, mechanics, ground personnel, and others involved in aviation operations submit reports to the ASRS when they are involved in, or observe, an incident or situation in which aviation safety may have been compromised. All submissions are voluntary. Reports sent to the ASRS are held in strict confidence. ASRS de-identifies reports before entering them into the incident database. Dates, times, and related information, which could be used to infer an identity, are either generalized or eliminated.
An online searchable database of reports is available. The database provides a foundation for specific products and subsequent research addressing a variety of aviation safety issues. ASRS's database includes the narratives submitted by reporters (after they have been sanitized for identifying details).
ASRS AND PILOT REPORTS OF LASER ILLUMINATIONS
ASRS is an especially useful resource for laser/aircraft incident reports prior to 2004, the date that FAA’s AC 70-2 began to require pilots to report such incidents to FAA.
Because it is not required for pilots to report to ASRS, this is best understood as accounts of the more serious illuminations that pilots encountered — ones that they would take extra effort to report.
RESULTS FROM SEARCHING THE DATABASE
A September 2018 text search for "laser" in the narrative found 192 reports. Of these, 29 occurred between June 1988 (the earliest report) and December 2003, while 163 occurred January 2004 or later. A quick review shows that most, but not all, of the reports are from pilots reporting laser illuminations of their aircraft.
For additional information on aviation-related incidents, see the entry for LaserPointerSafety.com, in the "General" section above
Medical laser devices and medically-treated incidents
U.S. FDA/CDRH MAUDE - 1991/96 to present medical device incidents
- The FDA/CDRH database Manufacturer and User Facility Device (MAUDE) database contains reports of adverse events involving medical devices.
The download data files consist of voluntary reports since June 1993, user facility reports since 1991, distributor reports since 1993, and manufacturer reports since August 1996. The searchable database data contains the last 10 year's data. MAUDE may not include reports made according to exemptions, variances, or alternative reporting requirements granted under 21 CFR 803.19.
MAUDE includes a large number of laser equipment malfunctions. Some caused personnel injury while the overwhelming number are equipment-related problems. An unusual factor in this database is that the equipment manufacturer has the opportunity to respond to the reported incident.
Persons using MAUDE may be interested in a 2010 Master's thesis by Katelynn Tonn, "Characterization of Medical Laser Related Occupational Injuries in the US FDA MAUDE Database." Tonn found 1,084 cases from 1990 to 2009 of injuries and deaths related to the use of medical or dental lasers. Of these, she found only four that "contained adequate information to apply to two human factors models that were used to evaluate the root cause of the injuries presented in the descriptions provided." Tonn concluded "It was found that cases lacked consistency throughout the database and even those that provided adequate information for the human factor models did not allow for a full assessment. The MAUDE database is in need of review and updating."
U.S. FDA/CDRH MDR - 1985-1996 medical device incidents
- The FDA/CDRH database Medical Device Reporting (MDR) allows you to search the CDRH's information on medical devices which may have malfunctioned or caused a death or serious injury during the years 1985 through 1996. It is no longer being updated since MAUDE (see above) has superseded MDR.
U.S. FDA/CDRH MedSun reports
- The Medical Product Safety Network (MedSun) is an adverse event reporting program launched in 2002 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). The primary goal for MedSun is to work collaboratively with the clinical community to identify, understand, and solve problems with the use of medical devices. It lists medical device adverse events from 2002 and later.
RESULTS FROM SEARCHING THE DATABASE
If you search for “laser” for all years, 465 records come up; not all of these are from radiation exposure.
U.S. CPSC - emergency room visit causes
- The Consumer Product Safety Commission operates the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS). This is a national probability sample of roughly 100 hospitals. Patient information is collected for every emergency visit in these 100 hospitals that involves an injury associated with a consumer product. If the number of collected samples is large enough, the total number of product-related injuries treated in all U.S. hospital emergency rooms nationwide can be estimated.
RESULTS FROM SEARCHING THE DATABASE
In 2013, LaserPointerSafety.com did an analysis of NEISS data from 2000 to 2012. The analysis noted that not all injuries using the term "laser" were to eyes. Some were due to swallowing laser pointers, or being injured by a pet when playing with a laser pointer. The analysis lists all "laser" reports and highlights those with eye complaints or eye injuries.
According to the analysis, NEISS received 4,812,667 injury reports from 2000 to 2012. Of these, there were 24 eye complaints or eye injuries due to lasers.
U.S. DHHS AHRQ - healthcare database
- The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the lead Federal agency charged with improving the safety and quality of America's health care system.
The AHRQ is cited as the source for statistics in Economic Trends in Eye-Related Hospitalizations (PO118), a poster presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology's 2015 annual meeting. The Johns Hopkins University study "identified a sample of nearly 47,000 patients ages 0 to 80 diagnosed with ocular trauma from 2002 to 2011 using a national heath care database [AHRQ]."
A brief review of the AHRQ website finds pages describing data resources, including the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) which appears to be the data source for the 2015 study of ocular trauma. Running an sample analysis, HCUP allows searches from a fixed list of diagnoses or procedures — but the keyword "laser" does not appear except as part of laser eye procedures. Thus, a search for laser injuries and accidents may require additional effort to separate these from eye or skin injuries in general.
PubMed - anecdotal clinical reports
- PubMed comprises more than 28 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full-text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites.
- Mostly anecdotal clinical reports from medical journals.
- This is not really a database but just a searchable index of articles.
Military and national laboratories
U.S. Department of Defense
- DoD has recognized the need for a general guidance for laser incident reporting within the DoD. The Laser System Safety Working Group, which includes laser experts from all services, drafted a new DoD Instruction for Protection of DoD Personnel from Exposure to Laser Radiation and Military Exempt Lasers. This instruction directs all services to report suspected laser exposures to the tri-service laser hotline at Brooks AFB. Instruction 6055.15, DoD Laser Protection Program.
U.S. Army Medical Research Detachment
- The United States Army Medical Research Detachment of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research maintains the Laser Accident and Incident Registry. LAIR has six categories: incident, exam, treatment, laser system, subject, and source information.
RESULTS FROM SEARCHING THE DATABASE
A June 2003 SPIE paper, Laser Eye Injuries Among US Military Personnel, "found a total of 29 laser injury reports that met our case definition. Since 1965, when the first injury occurred, there have been 6 Air Force, 15 Army, and 8 Navy/Marine injuries reported. Statistical analysis of data analyzed thus far shows no difference between the services in 8-year risk groupings between 1965-2002."
U.S. Department of Energy - general
- The Department of Energy's Occurrence Reporting Program (ORPS) provides timely notification to the DOE complex of events that could adversely affect: public or DOE worker health and safety, the environment, national security, DOE's safeguards and security interests, functioning of DOE facilities, or the Department's reputation. DOE analyzes aggregate occurrence information for generic implications and operational improvements. The Occurrence Reporting Program directives are DOE Order 232.2A, Occurrence Reporting and Processing of Operations Information, and DOE Standard DOE-STD-1197-2011, Occurrence Reporting Causal Analysis.
U.S. Department of Energy - Laser Safety Task Group
- The Laser Safety Task Group is part of the Energy Facility Contractors Group (EFCOG). At the Laser Safety Task Group webpage, scroll down to the Documents section. This includes:
- Incident reports
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory "Laser Lessons Learned" newsletters
- Lessons Learned (a separate section)
- Reports (including "Analysis of Laser Safety Occurrences in 2005-2011", a 17-page document that lists 24 "Significance Category 3" events, and three "Significance Category 2" events which resulted in injury.)
Westlaw legal database - cases involving lasers
- Legal databases are a resource to find laser incidents and accidents that led to lawsuits or other legal action.
For example, a February 2013 study in JAMA Dermatology, "Common Causes of Injury and Legal Action in Laser Surgery," searched Westlaw to find legal cases, jury verdicts and summaries, and trial court documents involving cutaneous laser surgery.
The initial search used a variety of search terms, and resulted in 1,809 documents from 1985 to 2012. Subsequent evaluation found that 174 of these documents concerned injury from cutaneous laser surgery, the focus of the study.
(Incidentally, the study's results found litigation was an increasing trend over the years, with laser hair removal the most common litigated procedure, plastic surgery the most common litigated specialty, and failure to obtain informed consent the most common preventable cause of action. Fifty-one percent of the cases with public decisions were in favor of the plaintiff, with the mean indemnity payment being $$380,719.)
LIMITATIONS OF RESEARCH THROUGH A LEGAL DATABASE
The study's authors noted the following limitations on conducting research through a legal database:
- Although it is a massive database, only one legal database was searched for the study.
- Cases within the database are those in which some form of legal action was taken, excluding complaints handled outside the judicial system (ie, third-party arbitration through malpractice carrier). This is likely to have excluded many frivolous claims with little merit.
- The query was a retrospective review and was limited by the search terms selected. There are probably some decisions that did not contain the searched terms.
- Lay terminology may elude a database search as used in this study.
- Information was not complete for all cases, even after it was supplemented through additional research.
- A significant number of the cases are still pending.
- Because these legal documents are lay documents (ie, not medical record), the facts presented were assumed to be true.
"Understanding Laser Accidents" book
- Understanding Laser Accidents provides a comprehensive reference addressing the full spectrum of laser accidents.
Starting with a fundamental review of biological effects, this book details why laser accidents occur, as well as real-world tips on how to avoid mistakes, preparing for accidents, regulatory response, and responsibilities. Biological effects of laser wavelengths, a critical topic for laser users, and unique properties of ultrafast lasers and tissue damage are discussed in detail.
2013 Swedish review of 34 cases of eye injuries from laser pointers
- This 2013 English-language study is a comprehensive survey of reported laser pointer injuries. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority is trying to correlate injuries with the laser intensity. The study was conducted because little information exists on the eye damage severity that may be expected at various laser exposure levels.
Chapter 4 is an extensive survey of reported retinal injuries from laser pointers. They found 34 cases from 1999 to 2012. (This does not include the 2013 Saudi Arabian hospital report of 14 young boys injured by high-powered blue lasers, which appeared too late for this study.) Of the 34 cases:
- 5 were deliberate exposures by the patient (they deliberately stared into the laser for more than a second or two, or numerous times)
- 5 were deliberate exposures by a doctor, on a patient whose eye was scheduled for removal due to disease
Thus, there were 24 cases in 13 years, or about 2 cases per year, of documented accidental injuries from laser pointers. In almost all cases, the laser was at close range -- less than a meter from the eye.
Section 5-3 further analyzes the 12 reported cases with the most information about exposure parameters. The exposures generally varied from 2.6 times, to about 29 times the Maximum Permissible Exposure.
The injuries were graded using the “Severity of Injury” criteria of the European Union. Most cases had severity level 2 or 3 meaning “Temporary loss of sight” or “Partial loss of sight. Permanent loss of sight (one eye)”. No case had the worst severity level 4, “Permanent loss of sight (both eyes).”
From 2013:30 Laser pointers and eye injuries: An analysis of reported cases, by Stefan Löfgren, Jörgen Thaung and Cesar Lopes. Published by Strål Säkerhets Myndigheten (SSM - the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority),19 November 2013. Report number: 2013:30. ISSN: 2000-0456
2015 Swedish review of 47 additional cases of eye injuries from laser pointers
- This English-language study is a 2015 survey of 47 reported laser pointer injury cases since the previous 2013 survey (described above) was published. The cases are described in the Appendix.
The authors wrote: “Eight of the 47 cases were described with sufficient data to be included in an analysis of the estimated laser exposure. We examined how much the actual exposure in each case exceeded the exposure limits by calculating the ratio of the two ('Risk Ratio', RR). Four cases showed RR values higher than 100, and the highest estimated exposure among the eight cases was 344 times the safety limit. The RR data was also compared to the eye injuries using a grading scale presented by the European Union. Visual acuity data in the case reports were used to indicate the functional outcome after laser exposure. Most of the cases were in between grade 2 and 3, where grade 3 means: Partial loss of sight. Permanent loss of sight (one eye).”
From 2015:54 Retinal injuries from handheld lasers: An updated report, by Jörgen Thaung, Cesar Lopes and Stefan Löfgren. Published by Strål Säkerhets Myndigheten (SSM - the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority), December 2015. Report number: 2015:54. ISSN: 2000-0456
2017 German review of 48 papers covering 111 cases of eye injuries from laser pointers
- The following abstract is from “Retinal Injury Following Laser Pointer Exposure: A Systematic Review and Case Series”, by Birtel et. al., in Deutsches Aerzteblatt International 2017; 114(49). The entire paper has useful information about laser pointer injury numbers, causes, severity and treatment.
Background: Recent years have seen a marked increase in laser-pointer-related injuries, which sometimes involve severe retinal damage and irreversible visual impairment. These injuries are often caused by untested or incorrectly classified devices that are freely available over the Internet.
Methods: We reviewed pertinent publications retrieved by a systematic search in the PubMed and Web of Science databases and present our own series of clinical cases.
Results: We identified 48 publications describing a total of 111 patients in whom both acute and permanent damage due to laser pointers was documented. The spectrum of damage ranged from focal photoreceptor defects to macular foramina and retinal hemorrhages associated with loss of visual acuity and central scotoma. On initial presentation, the best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) was less than 20/40 (Snellen equivalent) in 55% of the affected eyes and 20/20 or better in 9% of the affected eyes. Treatment options after laser-pointer-induced ocular trauma are limited. Macular foramina and extensive hemorrhages can be treated surgically. In our series of 7 cases, we documented impaired visual acuity, central visual field defects, circumscribed and sometimes complex changes of retinal reflectivity, and intraretinal fluid. Over time, visual acuity tended to improve, and scotoma subjectively decreased in size.
Conclusion: Laser pointers can cause persistent retinal damage and visual impairment. In view of the practically unimpeded access to laser pointers (even high-performance ones) over the Internet, society at large now needs to be more aware of the danger posed by these devices, particularly to children and adolescents.
From Birtel J, Harmening WM, Krohne TU, Holz FG, Charbel Issa P, Herrmann P. Retinal injury following laser pointer exposure—a systematic review and case series. Dtsch Arztebl Int, 2017 DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0831. Original in German, translation in English.
Laser pointer injury accounts
- An online gathering place for laser hobbyists and enthusiasts, LaserPointerForums.com, includes the Safety & Legal Issues forum. There are occasional accounts of incidents or accidents posted to this forum. (This is not a database but postings of some laser incidents, often by the person who caused and/or was affected by the incident.)
Google news alerts - general media
- For persons who want to keep up with laser-related incidents and accidents in the general media, Google has a service where you can set up alerts for specific phrases. If Google sees news stories or new web content with those phrases, you can get emailed links to the sources.
For example, here are some phrases intended to find incidents involving laser illumination of aircraft:
- laser airplane
- laser attack
- laser damage
- laser eye -surgery -center -centre -ctr (meaning "alert me to anything with 'laser eye' but not if it also includes 'surgery', 'center', 'centre' or 'ctr'")
- laser helicopter
- laser injury
- laser irritation
- laser pointer
- laser strike
For the topics above, roughly 10-20% of the Google Alerts are of some significance. The other 80-90% are stories that happen to contain these phrases such as "the midfielder kicked a laser strike into the goal" or "the prosecutor used a laser pointer to show evidence to the jury" or "the Air Force is testing lasers to attack other aircraft."
Depending on your needs, setting up a Google Alert may be useful.
For the group of persons who helped compile the above list, see the About this site page