A huge amount of benefits that LED lighting offers will guarantee that LEDs will outperform traditional forms of lighting in almost every area of our lives. LEDs are cost-effective, durable, require zero maintenance requirements, are used to detect motion, heating, information about parking, traffic, crowd, noise, temperature, air quality…
But in this article we will take a look at LED lighting from a safety perspective. So, are LED lights safe?

Below are potential hazards that should be kept in mind before we consider LED lights safe.

Hazard 1: Blue light and UV radiation

Today, white LEDs are widely used in all areas of life. White LED lights actually begin their lifespan as blue LEDs, with additional phosphor coating added to create a white light source. This has led to the appearance of bright blue LEDs. It is shown that ultraviolet lighting and other lighting higher on the spectrum can cause damage to the human eyes, and although LED-based light sources, unlike sunlight, do not emit any UV radiation (unless specifically designed for this purpose), blue light is nevertheless very close to ultraviolet on the spectrum.

Because white LED becomes more and more common, this has caused many concerns and is a reason of many regulations that have been adopted. Light above certain luminosities, UV, visible, and IR light all pose photobiological threats to eyes. Apart from UV, blue is left as the most destructive part of the visible spectrum, causing damage to the retina. “We have evolved to be protected from sun exposure when sun is high in the sky – it is why we have eye brows and brow ridges. When the sun is low, it tends to be redder,” Dr John O’Hagan, head of the UK Health Protection Agency’s laser and optical radiation dosimetry group told Electronics Weekly.

In 2009, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), adopted an international standard – IEC62471 “Photobiological Safety of Lamps and Lamp Systems”. The standard requires that all lamps and all luminaires do not exceed safety output thresholds defined by a certain luminosity at a given distance. LED lights are classified within one of four risk categories.
All lights must be tested and documented to the IEC62471 standard. Unfortunately, many manufacturers are unaware of this requirement, and simply don’t check if their products comply with all relevant standards. However, all manufacturers that don’t have certified test documents will be penalised and their products will be removed and prohibited from sale.

Bright blue light could disrupt circadian rhythms. When circadian rhythms are disrupted, our sleep can also be affected. It can cause symptoms of jet lag, restless nights and insomnia. LED lighting exposure can induce damage to the retina, however the damage is dependent on the wavelength and the duration that we are exposed to the LED lighting. According to EN 62471, the 500 Lux criterion must be used for lamps intended for general lighting. A 200 millimetre criterion is to be used for all other lamps, including lamps for professional uses and in certain industrial applications where workers might be required to look into light sources from a short 200mm distance.

There are population groups that are known to be especially sensitive to bright blue light, such as children, individuals suffering from certain eye diseases and people of certain professional categories. But nowadays warm white light LEDs are available, and also blue light blockers, such as glasses and screen protectors, which can help us block out blue light. Developing LED light safety habits is definitely worth considering.


Hazard 2: Red LEDs and their toxic substances

Red LEDs contain a toxic substance called aluminum gallium arsenide, or AGA. Although no evidence still exists on the adverse effects of red LEDs, but research shows that extensive use of AGA can potentially cause kidney, lung and reproductive organ problems. According to a study published in 2010 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, LEDs contain lead, arsenic and many other potentially dangerous substances.
Ogunseitan and other UC-Irvine researchers found that low-intensity red LEDs contain up to eight times the amount of lead, and thus “exhibit significant cancer and noncancer potentials due.” And the copper found in some LEDs can pose an environmental threat if it accumulates in rivers and lakes where it can poison aquatic life. In order to clean up car crashes or broken traffic lights (LEDs are used extensively for automotive and traffic lighting), the crew wear protective clothing and treat material as hazardous waste. However, LEDs are currently not considered toxic by law and can be disposed of in regular landfills.


Hazard 3: Weather

Since LEDs do not give off much heat in comparison to traditional electrical lights, LED lights used for traffic control can be obscured by snow, leading to accidents.


Hazard 4: Flickering

Lighting flicker in LED-based products remains a concern. Lighting flicker has long been known to cause discomforts and even maladies in humans, such as that headaches and seizures. LED-based products with good drivers that eliminate flickers can be rather costly. Also, smaller products are more susceptible to flicker due to size limitations on the driver. A common complaint has been noticed about LED-based luminaires designed to work with phase-cut dimmers.
The just-published IEEE standard provided an equation that helped to keep LED lights safe by checking a safety region and also a low-risk region for flicker. The equation is as follows: multiply the frequency of a light source by 0.08 and round up to calculate the maximum allowable percentage. At 120 Hz, 10% maximum flicker is within a safety region. This is just one of the equations to achieve this.
For more information on IEEE Practices, take a look at “Recommended Practice for Modulating Current in High-Brightness LEDs for Mitigating Health Risks to Viewers”.


So, are LED lights safe?

The answer would be generally yes. However, since LED lights are all around us, including our screens and homes, it is worth remembering this rule to make sure we live a LED lights safe life: The bigger and brighter the illumination source, the more potential risk it has for your eyes. Small white LEDs in lamps are unlikely to lead to many problems for our retina. LED might be viewable for a maximum 2,000s at 20cm. When these numbers increase, LED lighting can have a big disruption on our sleep wake cycle, leading us to feel tired throughout the day, and cause potential safety hazards as a result. It is worth the money to buy slightly more expensive good quality LEDs from a respectable vendor, with proper warranty and safety precautions. Familiarizing oneself with these procedures and standards is a key to developing a style of life that can be considered as LED lights safe.