Wireless communication has grown exponentially over the past three decades and the rate of growth is still on the increase. The cause and result of this exponential growth is more communication devices, which require more radio towers and often rooftops of buildings house multiple antennas to supply the demand of, for example, mobile phones and wireless fibre to mention only two.

Antennas that emit RF radiation are par for the course in the daily duties of roof-top technicians, bucket truck workers and tower climbers and it is therefore necessary to avoid RF overexposure.

In this article we look at:

1. What is radiofrequency (RF) radiation?  While falls at height are the obvious hazard to tower climbers, unmonitored RF radiation exposure can pose dangers as well. As such, radio frequency safety is a vital concern for service providers who work in close vicinity to base station antennas. By understanding the RF safety and safety procedures, RF trained rooftop workers and tower climbers can consistently and reliably protect themselves from RF overexposure. RF radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation (energy) that moves at the speed of light and is used in just about every wireless device. It entails transferring energy in the form of radio waves from a source to a receiver and vice versa. Electromagnetic waves can cause molecules to vibrate resulting in a thermal, or heating effect which is essentially the same process as heating food in a microwave, though this takes place at much higher power levels. 2. Is RF the same as radioactive/ionizing radiation? The electromagnetic spectrum is typically split into non-ionizing and ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation has insufficient energy to remove electrons from atoms or molecules, however at high intensities it can cause tissue heating, potentially resulting in cell damage. RF radiation falls into this group with frequencies usually ranging between 30 kHz and 300 GHz. In contrast, ionizing radiation is at a much higher frequency and energy level and can cause damage on a cellular level, and as such is considered carcinogenic in sufficiently high doses. 3. Why should you limit exposure? The level of exposure and how you can protect yourself depends on the source and your distance from it. It’s therefore important to understand how RF works, and how to avoid overexposure. In this regard, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the EU Directive all stipulate exposure levels below that which could cause harm with an additional safety factor to account for any scientific uncertainties. Exposure to very high levels of RF radiation can be harmful to the extent that RF energy can rapidly heat biological tissue and increase body temperature. Soft tissue, such as the eyes, are particularly vulnerable to RF heating. Overexposure to any type of radiation is a cause for concern but if you complete the required training, adhere to the allowed levels of exposure and take the necessary precautions, you can safely navigate your work environment without any RF radiation-related health risks.