A friend recently raised the topic of cell phone safety, contending that it is indeed harmful and should be carefully monitored. The subject raises some interesting concerns for the workplace because most employees working in the field (i.e. outside the office) rely on their cell phones as a business line as well as a personal line. Are employees at risk of suffering adverse health effects from the repeated use of cell phones?
Occupational safety factors of using a cell phone while driving are regulated in many states, and use of a cell phone while conducting other work activities may result in a loss of concentration and focus on the task at hand. Therefore the following simple guidelines address both potential effects from cell phone use and safety.
➢ Reserve the use of cell phones for shorter conversations or for times when a landline phone is not available.
➢ Use a hands-free device, which places more distance between the phone and the head of the user. Hands-free kits reduce the amount of radiofrequency energy exposure to the head because the antenna, which is the source of energy, is not placed against the head.
Data on the potential health effects of radio frequencies (RF) and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have been accumulated from public and private organizations since the mid-90’s, and several government agencies have shared regulatory responsibilities for evaluating the health risks from cell phones. Those with an interest in researching these effects include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health.
While current scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cell phones with any health problems, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) is conducting comprehensive studies in laboratory animals to determine the potential toxic and carcinogenic effects of radio frequency radiation that’s emitted from cell phones and other similar wireless devices. Exposures in these studies start during gestation while animals are in utero and are carried through the lifetime of the animals. These studies are designed specifically to mimic the human exposure scenario looking at exposures for 10 hours a day, which is considered an excessive amount of time, while presumably producing the worst-case scenario for cell phone users.
The Interphone Study, conducted by a consortium of researchers from 13 countries, is the largest health-related case-control study of cell phone use and head and neck tumors. Early analyses from this study have shown no statistically significant increases in brain or central nervous system cancers related to higher amounts of cell phone use. Another study, known as COSMOS, was launched in Europe in March 2010 and uses a large cohort study of cell phone use and the possible long-term health effects. This study has enrolled approximately 290,000 cell phone users aged 18 years or older to date and will follow them for 20 to 30 years.
The data from the NTP study is anticipated to be concluded in 2014 and released in 2016, while other longer-term studies in Europe will take decades to sort through the data. OSHA and other organizations with an interest in employee safety and health will have more tangible evidence as a result of these studies and be able to draw solid conclusions. In the meantime, encourage employees to use hands-free devices whenever possible and if questions arise as to the safety of cell phones, then I advise providing hands-free devices and conducting a short training to address these concerns.