Blink-182's Mark Hoppus' Retina Damaged by a Show Laser

In this troubling video, Blink-182's bassist and singer Mark Hoppus talks about how he suffered retinal damage during a show in Milwaukee:

(Note: Video updated 2/26/12--please let me know if you can find the original, I keep posting copies which get taken down)

At the 2:30 mark in this user-shot video from the Milwaukee show, you can see the angle of the beams Hoppus is talking about:

I'm glad he's apparently able to keep a positive attitude on this tragic accident, because this kind of damage is usually permanent. And this is not the first time in recent years that this has happened; back in 2008 I wrote about another incident in Russia where multiple audience members had serious eye damage after a very powerful laser was moved from an outdoor stage to a much smaller inside venue.

As I wrote in that 2008 entry, back in the 1980's I got my New York State Class B Mobile Laser Operator's License while working with high power lasers at Associates and Ferren. In studying for the test for that license with laser expert Norman Ballard, we learned that the primary personal hazards of high-power laser exposure were skin burns (I've had a few of those), blind spots when the laser strikes the retina, and the worst case--damaging the termination of the optic nerve and causing total blindness.  Fortunately, it appears that Hoppus only suffered the blind spots and not total blindness, but this is likely something that he will have to live with for the rest of his life.

Laser usage in for shows in the US is regulated by the FDA, and there should have been procedures in place to prevent exactly what happened to Mr. Hoppus.  In the video, he does a pretty good job of explaining how the process works in terms of protecting the audience (the beams must shine onto some sort of end stop (we used to use flat black honeycomb material back in the day)).  I was a bit rusty on the regulations regarding performers, so I sent the video to Norman, and he said, "Regulations say performers 'may be exposed to, but must not be caused to view' laser emissions above the MPE [Maximum Permissible Exposure]. This allowance is based on the principal that they are 'informed personnel' and the production is following well defined, documented, and rehearsed standard operating procedures."  And there can be--and, as a controls geek, I would say, should be--interlocks in the system to prevent exactly the kind of thing that happened to Mr. Hoppus.  As Norman explained, "In the beginning (literally for the band Genesis) we had to use pressure mats [simple mechanical switches that are actuated by the weight of the performer] that were interlocked to the shutter to assure that the performer was on his mark." 

Lasers have been coming back into vogue in recent years on touring concerts, and with all the advances in controls technology we have made, it seems to me that the laser industry should implement that basic interlocking technology that existed at the very beginning.  Simple pressure mats would have literally saved an eye.

Thanks to my student Adam Agarrat for finding this video!