Mobile phones and workers

Employees and unions take action to protect workers.

While there is still no definitive - or, perhaps, accepted “proof” - that mobile phones cause health problems, there is strong evidence that this is the case. The radiation they emit has been associated with brain tumours, learning problems, headaches, fatigue, memory problems and a host of other symptoms experienced by users. At the same time, studies on cells and animals have found that exposure results in changes to size, shape and growth of cells, breaks in DNA, breaches of the blood-brain barrier, changes to the expression of genes and to important ions in the body.

Not surprisingly, people are becoming worried!

Royal North Shore Hospital

In March this year, the Royal North Shore Hospital issued a landmark directive, warning staff not to use mobile phones. It advised the use of a landline phone or pager in preference and suggested that staff who choose to use mobiles hold them at a distance of 3-4 cm from the head. It suggested that mobile phones be used in the open or near a window to obtain a clear signal without having to increase power also advised staff not to use a mobile phone when driving unless they hand a hands-free facility in a car fitted with an external aerial.

According to Professor Norbert Berend, executive director of the hospital, “The hospital acknowledges that there is no clear evidence in the existing scientific literature that the use of mobile telephones poses a long-term public health hazard. However the possibility of a small risk cannot be ruled out. For this reason the hospital has adopted a precautionary approach to the issue.

Hands-free Kits

Shortly thereafter, an equally disquieting report suggested that hands-free kits may, in fact, be dangerous.

Tests conducted by the British Consumer Association, Which, showed that the kits can act as aerials, conducting radiation directly into the head. The two kits tested conducted three times the normal amount of radiation into the head.

The report concluded, “Think again if you use a hands-free kit to protect yourself from mobile phone radiation - the two we tested increase the radiation levels inside your head compared with holding the phone by your ear.”

For the 1.5 million owners of hands-free kits users in Australia, alone, this is not welcome news!

Quite apart from the radiation that may be conducted into the head, there are also concerns about the irradiation of internal organs. If the kits are kept attached to a belt during and between calls, there is a risk of irradiating organs in the vicinity. Certainly EMRAA has received reports of people who developed discomfort or tumours in a part of the body next to which their phone was kept.

Health warning

In Australia, consumer calls to have warning labels attached to mobile phones at point of purchase have been studiously ignored by the Government and strongly resisted by industry.

In Britain, however, the Stewart report recommended that information be available to assist consumers to make an informed choice about which type of mobile phone to purchase.

The report recommends “that information on SAR values for mobile phones must be readily accessible to consumers:
  • at the point of sale with information on the box
  • on leaflets available in stores giving comparative information on different phones and with explanatory information
  • as a menu option on the screen of the phone, and as a label on the phone
  • on a national web site, which lists the SAR values of different phone types.”
Prudent Avoidance

A British union has taken the precedent-setting stand of advising its 266,000 members to stop using mobile phones to protect their health. The Public and Commercial Services Union has stated that members must not be forced to carry or use a mobile phone. Espousing the message, “Don’t gamble with your health”, the union has recommended that:

  • workers requiring a mobile while travelling leave the devices turned off for the majority of the time;
  • incoming calls be acknowledged and returned later from a land line;
  • mobiles not be carried next to the body when operational;
  • mobiles be kept centimetres away from the head during calls.

(‘Sunday Mirror’, 19.3.00.)

EMRAA News June 2000, Vol 5 No 2