Occupational exposure: Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF EMR)

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Summary

Occupational exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF EMR) is normally low, but certain workers can be exposed to high levels if controls are not in place. There is no established evidence that occupational exposure to RF EMR causes long-term health effects. 

What do I need to know?

RF EMR is mainly produced by telecommunications sources such as TV and radio broadcasting, mobile telephony and wireless networks. Other sources of RF EMR can be found in some workplaces including certain industrial settings, in medicine and navigation. Although exposure to RF EMR in most workplaces is usually low, there are certain occupations where elevated exposure can occur and there is some concern of possible health effects.    

What is the possible exposure?

Exposure can be high for some workers working in close proximity to high-powered RF sources. Workers in telecommunications (e.g. broadcast and mobile transmissions), industry (e.g. induction heating, wood-glueing, plastic welding), medicine (e.g. MRI, diathermy, electrosurgery) and navigational roles (radar) have the potential to be exposed to levels higher than prescribed safety limits if controls are not in place. 

What are the possible health effects?

The only established health effect of RF EMR is excessive heating of tissue and this requires exposure well above set safety limits. There are no established long-term effects from exposure to RF-EMR.

There has been a number of epidemiological studies that have investigated occupational exposure to RF EMR and a range of diseases with many of the studies focussing on occupational groups with presumed high exposure to RF (e.g. military personnel, telecommunications, physiotherapists). Studies on cancer have mainly focussed on brain tumour and leukaemia/lymphoma. Other non-cancer studies have mainly investigated reproductive and cardiovascular effects. There is no consistent evidence that occupational exposure to RF EMR causes any disease. 

What are the exposure limits?

ARPANSA has developed an Australian Standard that sets limits for exposure to RF EMR both for workers and the general public. The limits in the standard are based on international best practice and are designed to prevent established health effects. Occupational limits in the standard apply to workers that are aware and/or have been trained on RF EMR. For all other workers that are unaware of their exposure to RF and for pregnant workers, the more stringent general public limits apply. The ARPANSA Standard also includes requirements for the management of risk in occupational exposure.

Further information