LASER SHOW INCIDENTS AND ACCIDENTS

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 where the beam irradiance tends to be lower.

  • There is no central database for incidents occurring to laser show technical staff. A few reports are in the Rockwell Laser Industries database, listed at the top of the Laser incident and accident sources page.
  • There have been just a few documented injuries to audience members attending laser light shows; these are listed below.

VERY FEW REPORTED INJURIES


As of 2018, ILDA estimates that very conservatively 150 million people have attended audience scanning laser shows, with 15 billion times that laser light has actually entered their eyes. From this, there have been a literal handful of documented injuries from continuous wave lasers — the type that should be used for any audience scanning.

Unfortunately, there have been around 60 or so injuries, in four separate incidents, that were caused by pulsed lasers being illegally aimed into an audience.

MISUSED PULSED LASERS CAUSE THE MOST INJURIES


Pulsed lasers emit light in short, powerful bursts, as opposed to continuous wave lasers where light "leaks out" from between two mirrors.

  • A continuous wave laser is as if someone puts their fist on your arm and steadily presses.
  • A pulsed laser is as if the person pulls back and repeatedly hits your arm. It may be the same total energy as the continuous pressure but each pulse (fist hit) packs more "punch" and can do much more damage.

Because of the danger of pulsed lasers, the International Laser Display Association says these should NEVER be used for audience scanning.

LIST OF REPORTED LASER SHOW INJURIES

       (The list above is as of October 2018 and has all cases known to ILDA. Obviously this does not include any cases settled privately, out-of-court, etc.)
  

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


The document below goes into much more detail about reasons why there are so few injury reports from light show lasers. It also lists sources for injury reports, as of 2009. If you are at all interested in laser show injuries, please review this paper.

Scanning Audiences at Laser Shows: Theory, Practice and a Proposal  A 31-page paper by Patrick Murphy and Greg Makhov, written in 2009 and updated since then. It describes audience scanning, discusses the very low number of injury reports and gives reasons why. The paper also presents ILDA's proposal to allow slightly greater laser power at venues where patrons routinely are exposed to other, more serious and prevalent risks such as hearing loss, smoking, excessive alcohol use, etc.