In this day and age, information and communications whiz around the world at the speed of light, carried by electromagnetic waves. The general population rarely thinks about this radiation, but for those working in the communications industry, RF radiation is a very real hazard.
What is RF Radiation?
Electromagnetic radiation is waves of electric and magnetic energy moving together through space at the speed of light. Radio waves and microwaves emitted by transmitting antennas are one form of electromagnetic energy. The general public calls these waves “radiofrequency” or “RF” or radiation. You may be more familiar with the terms “electromagnetic field” or “radiofrequency field,” which are also used to indicate the presence of electromagnetic or RF radiation.
RF Radiation Uses
Companies and governments around the world use radio frequencies to provide telecommunications services. Radio and television broadcasting, cell phones, satellite communications, and even radio communications for police and fire departments are all made possible by RF radiation. The military and travel industries use it in radar technology. And most folks use it daily when they push the “Start” button on the microwave oven.
What are the Effects of Exposure?
RF radiation causes heat — that’s why your burrito is piping hot after just a couple of minutes in the microwave. No surprise, then, that the human body has the same reaction. If you don’t take proper precautions when working with or near antennas, you run the danger of blindness and sterility.
Who is at Risk?
Employees who work in the telecommunications industry are at the greatest risk of exposure. They are the folks installing and maintaining the antennas that sit atop radio and television broadcast and satellite-earth stations. Even amateur radio operators may be exposed to significant RF radiation.
Construction workers are also at risk of exposure because they work on rooftops, sides of buildings, in and around mobile news trucks, and other locations where RF generating antennas are located. This proximity puts them at higher risk than the general public, who may be exposed as they pass near or under an antenna.
In recent years, there has been speculation and concern about the health effects of cell phones. There is no specific evidence that proves cell phone usage can cause cancer or other health effects. However, studies are ongoing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Safely working around antennas can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to help you along your way.
- Assume all antennas are active and operating at full power.
- Stay clear of the source of RF radiation and don’t pass through the direct line of emission.
- Power down or move them while work is taking place.
- Use a personal RF monitor and RF protective clothing.
- Follow your employer’s RF Safety Program.
If you would like more information about RF Radiation and how to protect yourself when working around it, visit the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) web site or check out our new RF Awareness Training.
Good luck and stay safe!