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Some forklifts are equipped with flashing strobe lights that indicate when the vehicle is backing up. Usually, they are used in conjunction with a backup alarm to provide maximum safety even for pedestrians who can’t hear either because they are wearing protective headgear or are hearing impaired.
But can flashing strobe lights actually cause somebody to go into an epileptic seizure?
The answer is “Yes”, but it can affect such a small percentage of the population that the benefits of using strobe lights on forklifts far outweighs the risk that they can cause someone to go into a seizure.
The condition is known as photosensitive epilepsy and it affects only about 3% of all people who have epilepsy, which itself is a small portion of the population, according to the Epilepsy Foundation.
Children and adolescents with generalized epilepsy are more prone to this condition than adults. As people get older, it usually disappears by the mid-20s.
The problem is that most people with photosensitive epilepsy aren’t aware that flashing lights can trigger an epileptic seizure until it happens. Other people may experience other symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
Other people may experience other symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. But this doesn’t necessarily mean the have epilepsy. They may simply have a light sensitivity.
Strobe lights are increasingly being used on fire alarms to provide warning to people with hearing disabilities. Flashing strobe lights on forklifts aren’t the only thing that can trigger seizures.
The Pokemon Episode
In a very well-known case, thousands of Japanese viewers of the cartoon Pokemon went into seizures during a scene in the character Pikachu used an electric shock on a missile, which caused the screen to flash red and blue rapidly.
Flashing strobe lights on forklifts or fire alarms aren’t the only thing that can trigger seizures. In a very well-known case, thousands of Japanese viewers of the cartoon Pokemon went into seizures during a scene in the character Pikachu used an electric shock on a missile, which caused the screen to flash red and blue rapidly.
A total of 685 people were rushed to hospitals after the program, two of whom remained hospitalized for more than two weeks.
Other TV shows, computer monitors, and video games that have flickering or rolling images also can trigger seizures in some people.
Even natural light, such as sunlight, can affect people with photosensitive epilepsy, especially if it is shimmering off water, flickering through trees, or shining through the slats of Venetian blinds.
Other people with epilepsy can go into a seizure when they view certain visual patterns, such as stripes of contrasting colors.
Factors that affect photosensitive reactions include the frequency of the strobe flash, its brightness, its contrast with background lighting, how far away the person is from the light sources, the strobe light’s wavelength, and whether the person’s eyes are open or closed.
The likelihood that all these conditions would occur simultaneously and affect somebody with photosensitive epilepsy in your business is extremely small. So you don’t generally have to worry about the backup strobes on your forklift causing people to fall into seizures.
However, if you know that somebody in your facility suffers from photosensitive epilepsy, the odds are increased. So you may want to take corrective action, such as either not using the strobes or reallocating that person to a job where they are less likely to come into contact with the lights.