RF Exposure Concerns
Description of National Worker RF Radiation Health and Safety Predicament
Cell phone use has become an integral part of everyday life in this nation. The wireless telecommunications industry enjoys tremendous popularity, if not dependence upon it. Consumer demand continues to grow, unabated, for existing and new technologies, products and services.
The rapid growth of the industry has been astronomical. In 1998, there were 60.8 million wireless subscribers in the United States. Now there are more than 355 million subscribers. In order to supply consumers with its widely popular products and services, the wireless industry has expanded its wireless networks, resulting in a dramatic increase in of the number of deployed wireless network components, such as base stations and antennas. For example, in 1996, there were fewer than 23,000 wireless antenna sites in the United States. Today, the wireless industry’s advocacy group, CTIA, states there are more than 300,000 cell sites throughout the country, many of which host multiple wireless antennas, pulling the total estimated number of cellular antennas up to well over 600,000.
RF Radiation Health and Safety Hazard
These wireless transmission sites come with an environmental, health and safety hazard: RF radiation. The ability to ensure workers’ health and safety has become far more difficult since the time the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established RF radiation human exposure limits and standards. Strategies and methodologies to protect workers have been outstripped and rendered obsolete by the astonishing, rapid proliferation of wireless networks.
RF radiation transmitting antennas are omnipresent – no longer limited to isolated, remote towers. They are located on rooftops, sides of buildings, utility poles, flag poles, lighting standards, camouflaged and concealed entirely within buildings. Workers that are compelled to work in proximity to RF radiation transmitters are no longer limited to the wireless industry’s RF trained technicians with protective gear and equipment. Rather, roofers, electricians, carpenters, maintenance personnel, HVAC technicians, painters, first-responders and a multitude of other trades are routinely required to work near RF radiation transmitting antennas despite being denied RF safety training and even information relative to the existence and location of RF radiation hazards.
Workers are routinely exposed to excessive levels of RF radiation because no effective, comprehensive RF radiation safety system is currently in operation. A number of practical challenges render it impossible for wireless service providers or the wireless industry alone to ensure the protection of all workers and the welfare of their families. These practical challenges include the following:
- The impossibility or impracticality of service providers to have continuous (24/7) knowledge and control of all activities at antenna sites;
- Mandated use of “stealth” antennas that prevent workers from identifying the existence and location of RF radiation hazards at work sites;
- Mandated collocation of RF radiation transmitting antennas that results in increased aggregate RF radiation emissions, more RF radiation hazards at a site and coordinating power-down among multiple service providers more complex;
- Locks, fences and restricted access may protect service providers’ and property owners’ physical assets from theft and vandalism, but they do not protect workers who are compelled to enter restricted areas to fulfill their job responsibilities;
- Signage is often missing, mislabeled, unintelligible and outdated (particularly in an industry where mergers and acquisitions are common);
- The practice of outsourcing work to third-parties is an increasingly common means to cut operational costs;
- Third-party workers are generally not provided RF radiation training and are, therefore, largely uninformed of RF radiation emissions and the risks they pose;
- Pole attachments (potentially the fastest and least expensive method of expanding networks) are pursued in the hurry-up world of fierce competition that does not always include careful engineering, permission to attach facilities, code compliant construction and maintenance;
- No national uniform standards exist for mapping and facility documentation;
- Thorough, ongoing inspections and audits are not consistently and routinely undertaken;
- No current solution includes the participation of all required stakeholders (i.e., commercial service providers, property owners hosting antenna sites, employers, local governments and the workers, themselves); and
- Current RF radiation health and safety methodologies lack independence, transparency and validation.
This list is merely illustrative. Numerous other practical considerations giving rise to this national worker safety issue certainly exist.