2 min read

The unseen enemy: Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation

With the debate raging about nuclear energy, it is timely for persons conducting a business or undertaking to ensure they have in place controls to manage the risks of radiation to which their workers may already be exposed in their workplace.

Every day, Australian workers are exposed to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation from sources such as radio and television broadcasting, cordless phones, radars, mobile phones, microwaves and medical instruments.

Two common sources are mobile phones and microwaves. Although the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPNSA) does not consider general mobile phone use a risk to health and safety, it provides a list of practical controls to reduce the risk of exposure, including:

  • increasing the distance between mobile phones and heads by using hands-free accessories or speaker mode;
  • texting rather than talking;
  • placing your thumb between the phone and your ear;
  • keeping calls short; and
  • avoiding using mobile phones in areas with poor reception, as this leads to the mobile transmitting at higher levels of radio frequency.

Similarly, if your business supplies a microwave oven to staff for their use, you owe a duty of care to ensure that the microwave is in good working order. There is a risk of exposure to harmful radiation if the microwave is faulty, so it should be inspected on a regular basis to ensure there is no damage to the door, hinges or glass, or any evidence of corrosion.

Although less common and usually deemed a low risk, your workers may also be exposed to radiation from airport screening, flying at altitude on a regular basis, powerlines and smoke detectors. After consulting with your workforce and assessing the nature of their activities, you may determine that there is a potential for these sources of radiation to cause a work-related injury following long-term exposure. If that is the case, you should put in place controls to eliminate or minimise that exposure.

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