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Assessing the Photobiological

Safety of LEDs
Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of products
incorporating light-emitting diode (LED) technology. First made commercially available
in the late 1960s for use in handheld scientific calculators, LEDs can now be found in a
wide range of products, from general and specialty lighting applications and advanced
communications technology, to detection systems for security cameras and even
consumer entertainment equipment.

Modern LEDs are semiconductor assemblies that emit high-intensity optical radiation
across the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared spectrums. In lighting applications, LEDs
are more energy efficient and require less maintenance than the incandescent and
fluorescent lighting products they replace. However, their increased use has elevated
concerns about potentially harmful photobiological effects that can result from even
incidental exposure to LED light.

In response to these concerns, todays product safety standards now include specific
testing requirements to evaluate and classify the photobiological risks associated
with many types of LEDs. This UL white paper presents an overview of the structure
and requirements of current photobiological standards for LEDs used in lamps, lamp
systems, and other product types, such as information technology equipment.

Beginning with background information on the growth in the use of LEDs, the paper
discusses the photobiological hazards associated with exposure to LEDs and other
types of lamps. The paper then offers a detailed review of the current photobiological
safety standards, IEC 62471 and IEC/TR 62471-2, including summary information on
testing, exposure limits, and risk groups. The paper concludes with a look at potential
future standards development efforts in this area, and compliance considerations for
LED manufacturers.

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Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

The Current Market for LEDs LED lighting solutions from the worldwide functions. Thermal interactions, on the

In just a few short years, dramatic sign industry. 2


other hand, are most often caused by the

improvements in the quality and absorption of IR radiation which produces


Countering these growth trends,
an elevated temperature at the site of
performance of LEDs has made this expanded production to meet the
exposure. Thermal interactions can affect
technology the lighting option of increased demand for products
the functional ability of proteins and
choice in a wide range of industrial and incorporating LED technology has
also lead to cellular damage. It should be
consumer applications. Todays LEDs already placed downward pressure on
noted that photochemical reactions do
provide brightness, color quality and LED unit prices.3 While such pressure
not solely occur in the ultraviolet region,
light output equal to or greater than could impact future revenue projections,
nor do thermal reactions solely occur in
many other commercially available it is expected that lower unit prices will
the infrared region.
lighting technologies. LEDs also offer actually spur even greater demand for
longer operating life, reducing or even LED-based lighting and other products In humans, exposure to the
eliminating the need for replacement, incorporating LEDs. photobiological effects of light from
and potentially lowering overall LEDs primarily affects the skin as well
operating costs.
Photobiological Effects and as the front surface of the eye and the
Potential Hazards Associated retina. As noted in Annex A of IEC 62471,
Another positive factor regarding LEDs with LEDs Photobiological Safety of Lamps and Lamp
is their energy efficiency. According
As the technology and performance Systems, specific photobiological effects
to the U.S. Department of Energy, the
of LEDs have progressed, there are can include the following reactions:
rapid adoption of LED lighting in the
increasing concerns regarding optical
U.S. could result in energy savings of Photokeratitis Photokeratitis is a
radiation produced by LEDs, and the
about $265 billion by 2027, and reduce photochemical reaction that affects
potential exposure risks to humans.
lighting electricity demand by 33%. In 1 the cornea of the eye and results
Optical radiation includes that portion
portable electronic applications such as from exposure to ultraviolet light
of the electromagnetic spectrum covering
mobile phones and tablet computers, the (usually 200-320 nanometers (nm),
ultraviolet, visible and infrared (IR)
widespread use of LEDs in screen displays 270 nm peak). Symptoms are similar
radiation (200-3000nm as defined in the
reduces power consumption and prolongs to the irritation resulting from sand
photobiological safety standards), and
battery life. or dirt in the eye
exposure to optical radiation has been
Improved technology, reduced operating linked with a number of reactions that Ultraviolet erythema This
costs and greater energy efficiency help fall within the category of photobiological photochemical reaction produces
to explain the rapid growth of the LED effects. These effects, which include a reddening of the skin, similar to a
marketplace. The sale of high-brightness photochemical and thermal interactions, sunburn, and results from exposure
LEDs in 2011 is estimated at $12.5 billion, have been shown to be of risk to living to ultraviolet light (200-320 nm, 295

representing an increase of 8% over 2010 human tissue, specifically to the skin nm peak)

sales of $11.2 billion, and a significant and eye. Ultraviolet cataract As the name
270% increase over the $4.6 billion in Photochemical interactions are usually implies, an ultraviolet cataract is a
revenue generated in 2007. LED revenue chemical responses to ultraviolet light in photochemical reaction that affects
is expected to grow to over $16 billion by which bonds between electrons in cellular the lens of the eye, and which
2016, driven largely by an anticipated 33% molecules are broken or rearranged. results from exposure to ultraviolet
compound growth in LED lighting and These cellular changes can lead to the light (290-325 nm, 305 nm peak).
lighting products, and strong demand for deterioration or destruction of cellular Clouded vision is a typical symptom

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Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

Photoretinitis Also known The Development of The work of the IESNA and the CIE
as blue light retinal injury, Photobiological Safety in the area of photobiological safety
photoretinitis is a photochemical Standards and Requirements requirements specific to LEDs ultimately
reaction to visible light (usually led to the development of IEC 62471,
Todays photobiological safety standards
400-500 nm, 445 nm peak) that Photobiological Safety of Lamps and
have their origins in efforts during the
affects the retina. Common Lamp Systems. First published in
1990s to accommodate LED-related
symptoms include blind spots, also 2006, IEC 62471 is mostly based on the
radiation requirements within existing
known as scotoma. Photoretinitis photobiological safety requirements
laser safety standards. The rationale
has been linked to macular found in ANSI/IESNA RP-27, but reflects
for this initial effort was based on a
degeneration some changes in the weighting functions
number of technical characteristics
Retinal thermal injury This shared by lasers and LEDs, as well as for certain wavelengths and the start/
thermal reaction (usually 400-1000 some common applications. Toward this stop points for wavelength ranges for
nm, 500 nm peak) affects the retina certain hazards. The introduction of IEC
end, the principle laser safety standard,
and the choroid of the eye, and 62471 led to the removal of LED-specific
IEC 60825, Safety of laser products, was
results from exposure to visible and radiation safety requirements from IEC
first modified in 1993 to address LED
infrared light. As with photoretinitis, 60825 in 2007.
requirements, and again in 1996 and 2001.
symptoms include blind spots, or
However, the constraints of addressing The IEC has also issued a technical report
scotoma
the differences in laser and LED emissions intended to provide further guidance
Infrared cataract Infrared within the scope of a single standard on the manufacturing requirements
cataract is a reaction to infrared made clear that a standard devoted and control measures related to LEDs.
light (anywhere from 700-1400 exclusively to photobiological safety of First published in 2009, IEC/TR 62471-2,
nm, peak likely between 900-1000 lamps, including LEDs, would eventually Photobiological Safety of Lamps and
nm) and affects the lens of the eye,
be necessary. Lamp SystemsPart 2: Guidance on
and results in a clouding of vision.
manufacturing requirements relating to
It is presumed to be a thermal In response to these challenges, the
non-laser optical radiation safety, offers
photobiological effect, but is also Illuminating Engineering Society of
clarification on the application of the
possibly a photochemical reaction North America (IESNA) developed
photobiological safety requirements of
a photobiological safety standard
LEDs that result in potential concern IEC 62471 at the end-product level. IEC/
specifically covering lamps and
for producing photobiological reactions TR 62471-2 also includes information
lamp systems, including LEDs. IESNA
in humans include those used in on product labeling, user information
RP-27, Recommended Practice for
illumination and lighting applications. statements, viewer related risk, and
Photobiological Safety for Lamps and
LEDs used in devices for the purposes occupational safety issues.
of infrared transmission are also of Lamp Systems: General Requirements,
concern. Not all LEDs, however, produce was published in 1996, and was adopted IEC 62471 is now recognized in many
potentially harmful photobiological as an American National Standard by the countries as the key standard addressing
reactions. For example, so-called single American National Standards Institute photobiological safety issues related to
indicator LEDs used to show the status (ANSI). The essential requirements lamps, lamp systems and other non-lamp
of a device (such as an on/off indicator of RP-27 were later adopted by the sources of optical radiation. Certain
on a monitor) do not typically present a International Commission on Illumination individual product safety standards for
significant level of risk to humans, and are (CIE) in its standard CIE S 009/E: 2002, products incorporating LEDs, such as
not usually evaluated under the current Photobiological Safety of Lamps and those covering information technology
photobiological safety standards. Lamp Systems, published in 2002. equipment and consumer electronic

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Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

devices, are being revised to reference IEC wavelengths. These absolute levels are
62471. However, current versions of many then summed according to the equations
product standards may still reference in the standard over the applicable
IEC 60825, and products presently on wavelength range, and weighted where
the market may reflect testing and applicable to reflect wavelengths for
certification to the earlier radiation a particular hazard. The results are
requirements found in IEC 60825. the effective, or weighted, irradiance/
radiance values.
Photobiological Requirements
of IEC 62471 Exposure Limits
IEC 62471 is a testing and classification Once the effective irradiance and
standard that lays out a process for radiance values are determined by
assessing the relative photobiological laboratory measurement, the results are
safety of lamps, lamp systems, and other compared to the limits defined in the
non-lamp sources of optical radiation. The standard. The limits are applicable to
process consists of three basic stages as continuous light sources with minimum
follows: 1) measuring absolute radiance exposure time of greater than 0.01
and irradiance levels, 2) comparing millisecond and a maximum exposure
effective (weighted) levels with the
time of not more than eight hours. The
exposure limits defined by the standard,
limits defined by the standard are based
and 3) determining a risk group to which
on radiation levels presumed not to
a product is assigned based on the level of
create adverse health effects, but they
hazard to the skin and eye. The following
are not intended to strictly define the
sections discuss each of these stages in
difference between safe and unsafe
further detail.
levels. Additionally, the defined limits may
Measurements not accurately define the risk for certain
IEC 62471 defines two key radiometric individuals who are more susceptible to
parameters to assess the level of harmful adverse health effects from exposure to
radiation produced by a given product, optical radiation, such as individuals with
irradiance and radiance. Irradiance increased photosensitivity, or those who
measures the total amount of radiation have lens transplants.
at an illuminated surface from the entire
Risk Groups
hemisphere above, and evaluates the risk
of hazards to the skin and to the front of When a products effective irradiance
the eye. Radiance measures the amount and radiance values have been compared
of actual light collected by the pupil, and against limits defined in the standards,
evaluates the risk of hazards to the retina the extent of a products level of hazard
of the eye. can be established. IEC 62471 uses the
following categories to communicate
Absolute irradiance and radiance levels
a products overall level of risk:
are measured in nanometer increments,
without incorporating any weighting Exempt Lamp/LED does not pose
functions of the eyes response to various any photobiological hazard

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Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

Group 1 (low risk) Lamp/LED does Labeling IEC/TR 62471-2 lamp systems (including LEDs) will not
not pose a hazard due to normal recommends specific types of remain static. As previously noted, current
behavioral limitations on exposure product labeling, including notices, versions of many product standards
cautions and warnings, based on still reference IEC 60825 to assess the
Group 2 (moderate risk) Lamp/
the components IEC 62471-defined potential LED radiation hazards. However,
LED does not pose a hazard due to
risk group and the wavelength of a number of these standards are being
the aversion response or thermal
the optical radiation amended to reflect the photobiological
discomfort
requirements of IEC 62471, including
User information IEC/TR
Group 3 (high risk) Lamp/ IEC 60950, Information Technology
62471-2 recommends the inclusion
LED may pose a hazard even for Equipment. Other new standards recently
of IEC 62471-defined risk group
momentary or brief exposure published such as IEC 62368, Audio/
information, including hazard
Video, Information Technology and
distances, exposure hazard values,
Other Photobiological Communications Equipment, reference
and instructions on the safe use of
Safety Requirements the end-product IEC 62471 in their first edition.
Often, end products incorporate LEDs Another potentially significant
Viewer-related risk IEC/TR
and other components that produce development in this area is the current
62471-2 categorizes viewer-related
optical radiation. Because IEC 62471 is effort to update UL 8750, Light Emitting
risk as unintentional short term,
a horizontal standard, it does not Diode (LED) Equipment for Use in Lighting
intermittent, occasional short
directly address manufacturing, labeling, Products. A new edition of UL 8750 is
term, and intentional long term.
or user safety requirements that may be Viewer-related risk associated with expected to incorporate photobiological
appropriate for end products that an end product may differ from the safety requirements and safeguards.
include components that produce IEC 62471defined risk group assigned Consideration may also be given in some
optical radiation. to a component cases to modify or waive the requirement
for photobiological assessments, for
For end product manufacturers, IEC/TR Maintenance personnel
example, where spectral filters have been
62471-2 provides further guidance considerations IEC/TR 62471-2
incorporated to reduce optical radiation
on the appropriate application of the recommends that the overall
levels. Further developments on this front
safety requirements of IEC 62471, photobiological risk of an end
are anticipated sometime in 2012.
especially regarding issues related to the product be based on the IEC
62471defined risk group of the Discussions are also reportedly underway
installation and use of an end product.
component producing optical regarding the revision of IEC 62471,
IEC/TR 62471-2 specifically addresses the
radiation which may include changes or
following issues:
adjustments in certain exposure limits.
Hazard distance IEC/TR 62471-2 Anticipated Standards No publication date has been set for the
defines hazard distance as the Development Activities release of this update. The IEC is also in
distance where the anticipated As LED technology continues to the process of developing two additional
exposure level equals the maximum evolve and applications multiply, parts for the IEC 62471 series, including
effective radiation values that are standards development efforts on the a Part 4, which would provide guidance
not harmful to end users photobiological safety of lamps and on measurement methods. 4

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Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

Considerations for Manufacturers


To date, the European Union (EU) is the only jurisdiction that specifically mandates
protection against optical radiation under the essential health and safety
requirements of its Low Voltage Directive (LVD). As of September 2011, IEC 60825 can
no longer be used to evaluate the radiation safety of LEDs under the LVD. However, the
EUs version of IEC 62471, EN 62471: 2008, has been harmonized with the requirements
of the LVD, so testing to its requirements now provides evidence of compliance with
the LVDs requirements in this area. LED manufacturers should strongly consider
testing their products in accordance with IEC 62471 to provide continued access to this
important market.

Compliance with photobiological safety requirements in the U.S. and throughout the
rest of the world is still voluntary. However, evidence of testing to the requirements
of IEC 62471 can be used for product certification under the IECEE CB scheme, which
supports the mutual acceptance by more than 50 member countries of test reports
and certificates dealing with the safety of electrical and electronic products and
components. Therefore, compliance with the requirements IEC 62471 can ease the path
toward worldwide market access.

Finally, even in the absence of mandatory requirements, voluntary compliance


with important product safety standards often influences purchasing decisions.
Depending on the safety standards required by a products intended use, LEDs and
other components emitting optical radiation that have not been evaluated according
to the requirements of IEC 62471 may be eliminated from consideration. In such cases,
LED manufacturers whose products have been evaluated against IEC 62471 have a
potentially significant competitive advantage, demonstrating their commitment to
producing quality products that meet the most rigorous product safety requirements.

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Assessing the Photobiological Safety of LEDs

Summary and Conclusion


Technological advances have led to the use of LEDs in a widening array of applications.
However, the proliferation of high-intensity LEDs has also increased concerns regarding
the potentially hazardous photobiological effects from exposure to LEDs and other
emitters of optical radiation. To address these concerns, product safety standards have
been developed that detail specific testing methods to assess a products potential risk.

At present, photobiological testing and certification of LEDs and other optical radiation
emitters is mandatory only in the EU. But voluntary testing to the requirements of
IEC 62471 clarifies the level of risk associated with these products, and can ease access to
markets even where testing is not required. IEC 62471compliant LEDs also enable buyers
to make informed decisions regarding the relative safety of comparable products.

For further information about the photobiological safety requirements of LEDs, and
ULs work on photobiological safety standards, contact Winn Henderson, staff engineer
at Winn.Henderson@ul.com

THIS WHITE PAPER IS FOR GENERAL INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY AND IS NOT INTENDED TO CONVEY LEGAL OR OTHER
PROFESSIONAL ADVICE.

1
Learn About LEDs, Energy Star, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.
http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=lighting.pr_what_are#all_equal
2
High-Brightness LED Market Review and Forecast2011, Strategies Unlimited, Sept. 2011. Web. 12 Apr. 2012.
http://www.strategies-u.com/articles/reports/high-brightness-leds/high-brightness-led-market-review-and-forecast---2011.html
3
For example, see LED Streetlights Price Cut in Half, Wall Street Journal, 10 Apr. 2012
4
LED-base products must meet photobiological safety standards: part 3, LEDs Magazine, Feb. 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2012.
http://www.ledsmagazine.com/features/9/2/9

UL and the UL logo are trademarks of UL LLC 2012. No part of this document may be copied or distributed without the prior written
consent of UL LLC 2012.

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