Do Company Mobiles Breach Health & Safety Law?

The World Health Organisation re-classified emissions from mobile phones as Group 2B ‘Possibly Carcinogenic’  – this could create serious Health and Safety implications for company mobiles.

The Smartphone has emerged as the main technology platform for company mobiles with many companies reducing landlines in favour of more sophisticated mobiles. This has led to increased usage and a ‘always on-line’ mentality for users and companies alike. The TUC document “Occupational Cancer a Workplace Guide” makes it clear that there is a legal responsibility and duty of care for companies regarding the health of their employees making it their duty to ensure that they conduct suitable assessments which includes risks and hazards that may cause cancer. With mobiles now classified as Group 2B, the TUC states that it moves the obligation to protect staff firmly onto the employer’s shoulders. Cancers can develop for a wide range of reasons. These include exposure to radiation – both from radioactive materials and the sun – infection by certain viruses, genetic defects, a weakened immune system, age, bad diet, and exposure to chemical or other carcinogens. Carcinogens damage cells and make them more likely to turn cancerous. There are a wide range of known carcinogens, including tobacco smoke, asbestos fibres, diesel exhaust, radiation plus a host of others that have been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B). These include chloroform, dry cleaning chemicals, DDT and electromagnetic fields from mobile phones.

Mobile phone manufacturers have already moved into a defensive stance on the topic by adding warnings to their instructions & safety guides with comments like “This product may exceed FCC exposure guidelines for body-worn operation if positioned less than 15mm (5/8”) from the body. For optimal mobile device performance and to be sure that human exposure to RF energy does not exceed the FCC, IC and European Union guidelines, always follow these instructions and precautions”. In plain language this warns users NOT to place an operating mobile close to the body – in reality when making calls we place the phone against our ear, just millimetres from our brain.

Over the past decade there has been upwards of 500 studies around the world investigating mobile phone radiation and its effects on the human body. All the independently-funded studies that included long term users have found an association between mobile phone use and an increased risk of brain tumours amongst adults. Some studies have found that people who have used mobile phones for more than a decade have 200% more brain tumours, and only on the side of the head where the user holds the phone. Nobody can tell how big the increased risk is yet because scientists don’t know how many years someone has to use a mobile phone to increase their chances of a brain tumour.

Many scientists believe that the studies done so far, which at most show the risks of people who have used their mobile phone for about 10 years, are only showing the tip of the iceberg and that the risk will peak after 20 or more years of use. Other studies have also shown symptoms such as reduced sperm counts, DNA damage as well as headaches, nausea, depression and memory loss. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has been sitting on the fence on the issue for several years and quotes the following in its ‘Health Advice on Mobile Phones’ - “The benefits of mobile telecommunications are widely recognised but, given the uncertainties in the science, some precaution is warranted particularly regarding the use of handsets held against the head”. The change of classification of mobiles to 2B also led to the HPA quoting - “The HPA notes the conclusion that there could be some risk and that a close watch should be kept for a link between mobile phones and cancer risk. HPA supports the call for additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones”.

In many ways electromagnet radiation have become the cigarettes of the 21st Century – with ad’s originally touting the benefits of cigarettes and portraying doctors smoking. It took several decades for the truth to win out and defeat the ‘spin’ from the tobacco companies, but now science and the courts have definitively established the destructive effects of tobacco and can agree that the original ad’s were preposterous. Unfortunately, many fail to appreciate that there are massive similarities between the telecommunications and tobacco industries with respect to their PR regarding the potential health dangers of the product.

Companies should be up-dating their Health and Safety policies now, to take steps to mitigate this hazard to staff. There are a number of ways to minimise your staff’s exposure to phones emissions. The can use speaker-phone - Not an ideal option in a busy environment. Bluetooth headset - A better option, but still keeping a transmitter close to the head for long periods. Wired headset - Cable can act as aerial, increasing the electromagnetic waves to the head. Another option is to use our ‘air’ air-tube headset, this has the advantage of almost eliminating radiation to the head. This solution achieves its objective by converting the electrical signal from the phone to harmless airwaves and conveying the sound to the ear by air-tube.

There is no doubt mobiles are here to stay, after all they aid communication, safety and lifestyle. We are advocating a common sense approach that meets Health & Safety guidelines to protect staff, keep within the law and to alleviate where possible the illnesses and ramifications that could be caused.

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