Laser pointers of sufficient power if used carelessly or inappropriately can cause a risk to health and safety. Users of laser pointers for astronomy purposes should be aware of the safe use of laser pointers and their legal obligations.

Legal requirements:

From April 2012 amendments to the Queensland Weapons Act made laser pointers with a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt restricted items in Queensland, requiring a reasonable excuse for their lawful possession and use. A reasonable excuse includes taking part in activities associated with astronomy, provided that the person is a member of a “recognised astronomical organisation” or is being personally supervised by a member of a “recognised astronomical organisation”; the reason for possession or acquisition is for the purposes of astronomy and the power output is less than 20 milliwatts. Being restricted items, laser pointers must be stored in a locked container when not in a person’s physical possession and reasonable care must be taken to prevent access by persons not lawfully entitled to possess one.

AAQ applied to become a “recognised astronomical organisation” for the purposes of the Act and in December 2013 received confirmation from the Queensland Police that this has been approved. This approval will eventually be listed on the Queensland Police website and be included in the Weapons Regulations. If any member is queried by a member of the Police force about their use of a laser pointer they can advise the officer of the status of AAQ in relation to the Act. AAQ membership cards are available on request.

Note that legislation on laser pointers differs from state to state and approval from Australian Customs Service is required to import a laser pointer of more than 1mW into Australia. AAQ has been listed on the NSW Police website as being an approved astronomical organisation for the purpose of an exemption from obtaining a laser pointer permit in NSW.

AAQ members hiring the AAQ’s laser pointer must comply with the following:

It is important that AAQ members use laser pointers responsibly, and are aware of appropriate safety precautions in the use of laser pointers for astronomy purposes. The Astronomical Society of Australia has issued a fact sheet on laser pointers which includes the following guidance:

  1. A laser pointer must only be used in accordance with the laws of the state or territory in which it is used.
  2. Ensure that the laser pointer used requires a button to be held continuously to activate the beam. If the laser pointer is dropped the beam will automatically switch off.
  3. Hold the laser pointer overhead in an outstretched arm before activating the switch and release the switch before lowering the pointer. This will help avoid accidental eye exposure.
  4. Aim the beam only at celestial objects. Do not aim the beam at any object on the ground, nor at aircraft, motor vehicles, any person or any animal.
  5. When the laser pointer is not being used to point at celestial objects return it to its case, place it in a pocket or cover the aperture from which the beam is emitted.
  6. Store the pointer in a secure place away from the reach of children and anyone with a potential to misuse the device.

Note that the above is provided in good faith, but is not legal advice and members are encouraged to become familiar with the issues including reviewing the references below.

References

ASA factsheet on laser pointers: http://australianastronomy.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/factsheet_22.pdf
Queensland Police factsheet on laser pointers: https://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/weaponsLicensing/fees/Documents/Laser-Pointers.pdf
Queensland Weapons Act: http://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/legisltn/current/w/weaponsa90.pdf

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