Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation - Dangers Of Exposure

Alert
Document Type: Alert
Keycode: web only
Industry: Construction, 
Division Author: Construction & Utilities
Publication Date: 07 June 2005
Date First Published: 09 May 2003
Summary: This alert warns of the dangers of exposure to excessive levels of radiofrequency from transmission devices on buildings for workers engaged in roof maintenance, façade maintenance or window cleaning, and provides guidance on preventative measures.

Radio FrequencyWorking near radio transmission devices, such as dishes and antennas typically mounted on roofs, can be dangerous or may affect health if exposure to excessive levels of radiofrequency (RF) radiation occurs.

Workers may be exposed to RF radiation if the work area on a building or structure has radio transmission devices. Workers most at risk are those involved in tasks where access is required to roof spaces containing communication transmission hardware. Such tasks include:

  • Roof maintenance
  • Window cleaning
  • Facade maintenance

Delivery, installation or maintenance of any plant or gear, or any other task where access to the roof is required.

What is RF radiation?
RF radiation, also known as EME, EMR or EMF, is low frequency radiation (less than 300 GHz) which includes microwave transmissions. The major sources of RF radiation are radio, television, mobile telephone and paging transmission antennas.

Health effects
RF radiation heats in the same way that microwave ovens heat food. Harmful heating of body tissue is a possibility where there is exposure to RF fields above the maximum recommended exposure levels. Shocks, similar to electric shocks, due to touching or receiving arcs from RF devices are also possible from over-exposure to RF radiation.

Currently there is no known link between exposure to RF radiation and an increased risk of cancer.

Responsibilities
Employers must ensure that employees, independent contractors or the general public are not exposed to RF radiation above recommended maximum levels outlined in the radiation protection standard, Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields -- 3 kHz to 300 GHz published by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, ARPANSA (see Further Information for more details).

Any person who has management or control over the workplace, including access to and egress from the workplace must also, so far as is practicable, provide a safe workplace. This includes building owners, occupiers or building managers who control access to the roof.

No person should be able to access a roof with radio antennas without receiving training and information on the risk of any RF radiation present and the controls needed to avoid over-exposure. This is a joint responsibility of those persons who control access to the roof area and any principal contractors and subcontractors undertaking works on the roof.

How to avoid over-exposure
Section 5 of the ARPANSA radiation protection standard recommends how the risk of occupational exposure may be managed. Key factors to ensure a safe workplace include:

Hazard identification / Risk assessment

  • Identify radiation sources and list the contact numbers of all companies controlling transmissions from the roof or work location.
  • Determine "NO GO" areas where maximum exposure levels may be exceeded. This may be by measurement, or on the advice of a competent person.
  • Document information on No Go Areas.

These actions of hazard identification and risk assessment need to be taken prior to workers accessing any area where RF radiation is likely.

Control measures

  • The preferred method of controlling exposure to RF radiation is to cease or power down transmissions. However, as control over the transmission signal is usually remote from the worksite, employers need to ensure that they are able to continually verify the strength of the signal during the works.
  • Develop a Safe Work Procedure (SWP) giving consideration to all identified risks, including RF radiation.
  • Induct and train all workers in the SWP.
  • Make sure that NO GO areas are sign-posted, marked or provided with physical barricades in accordance with the SWP.
  • Where workers have a need to enter a NO GO area, they should be directly supervised by a competent person who has undergone training in safely managing an RF radiation environment.

A recommended checklist for control of exposure to RF radiation is provided in Attachment 1.

RF radiation measurement
All identification, mapping and monitoring of RF radiation should be undertaken by competent persons experienced in this work. A list of companies accredited for electromagnetic emission measurements may be obtained from the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia (NATA) (see Further Information for more details).


Acts and Regulations


Acts and regulations are available from Information Victoria on 1300 366 356 or order online at www.bookshop.vic.gov.au.

View the legislation at Victorian Law Today: www.legislation.vic.gov.au


Further information


Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA)
Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields -- 3 kHz to 300 GHz, (Radiation Protection Series No. 3) published May 2002 [also known as the Radiation Protection Standard]

This standard is available from the Government Info Shop, 190 Queen St. Melbourne, phone 132 447. Alternatively it can be downloaded or ordered from the ARPANSA web site: go to www.arpansa.gov.au

Or contact ARPANSA on (03) 9433 2211.

WorkSafe Victoria publications

Other useful health and safety information and publications are available on WorkSafe Victoria's web site

Or contact our Advisory Service on 9641 1444 or toll free 1800 136 089.

National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA)
Contact NATA on (03) 9329 1633 or visit the NATA web site at www.nata.asn.au.

Note: This material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe Victoria. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, the Victorian WorkCover Authority extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances.