News & Insights
Understanding & Managing Electromagnetic Radiation Risks
What is electromagnetic radiation (EMR)?
Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is a form of energy which is all around us. It takes many forms, from radio waves, microwaves, sunlight to X-rays and gamma rays, and we utilise it for many different purposes. Visible light makes up only a small portion of the EM spectrum, which contains a broad range of electromagnetic wavelengths and frequencies, as shown in the diagram below.
The EM spectrum is divided into seven regions, in order of decreasing wavelength and increasing energy and frequency. These are:
- Radio waves (with the longest wavelengths)
- Infrared (IR)
- Visible light
- Ultraviolet (UV)
- Gamma rays (with the shortest wavelengths)
The Electromagnetic Spectrum
Non-ionising vs ionising – What is the difference?
‘Non-ionising’ describes longer wavelength, lower energy radiation (including visible light, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves). All the EMR utilised in telecommunications (such as used by mobile phones, AM/FM radio towers, mobile phone towers and masts) sits within the non-ionising radio waves frequency spectrum. A comprehensive body of scientific research from authorities such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has proven that non-ionising radiation cannot ‘ionise’ the atoms in the human body. Therefore, there are no direct links to adverse health effects (such as cancer) from exposure to this radiation.
On the other hand, ‘Ionising’ radiation refers to shorter wavelength, higher energy waves. Sources of ionising radiation include the Sun, arc-welding, radioactive materials, and X-rays. Ionising radiation has been clearly scientifically proven to ‘ionise’ atoms in the human body and therefore cause damage to DNA, which can lead to cancer.
What is 5G?
5G (5th generation) is a mobile network which utilises wireless technology to provide a super-fast, ultra high-capacity telecommunications network. 5G electromagnetic waves have a higher frequency than 4G and 3G, although they are still well within the bounds of non-ionising radiation. Their shorter wavelength means they are less able to penetrate solid objects. The density of 5G towers, boosters and repeaters required to provide adequate coverage is therefore significantly higher than the existing 4G network across Australia.
Proactive management of EMR risks
Equipment, plant or technologies which emit high frequency, ionising EMR are strictly controlled by requirements set out in the Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Act 1998 (as amended 2016), and associated Regulations and industry Codes of Practice. It is however, also considered best practice to undertake appropriate exposure risk assessment for any workplace or site which includes any non-ionising EMR emitting equipment, plant, and technologies. Consequently, as more non-ionising telecommunication EMR applications (such as 5G) are rolled out, it is a prudent time to undertake assessments for your buildings or sites. This is to establish whether EMR levels generated by artificial sources onsite are approaching (or exceeding) guideline levels and verify the control and management processes required to manage associated risks.