Over the last few days there has been considerable media attention around the world about the Interphone study into mobile phones and cancer. The report says that there is an increased risk of some brain cancers for heavy mobile phone users but is this a concern for employers who are obliged to provide a workplace and work activity that is without risk?
The Interphone study is important for many reasons but ultimately it established an anchor point or a reference point on mobile phones and cancer. The fact that it was largely inconclusive, in this context, is far less important. Professor Bruce Armstrong summed up his take on the report in a media briefing on 18 May 2010 where he acknowledged continuing uncertainty on the hazard of brain tumours and mobile phones. Listen to Prof. Armstrong below:
As the mobile telephone technology has developed, phone units have been able to provide a similar level of coverage and service at a lower level of radiation. This has reduced the risk of cancer considerably. Employers may consider asking phone manufacturers or retailers to identify those phones that operate with the least amount of radiation. When considering this risk factor, it is surprising that this labeling criteria or product information is not generally provided.
In a media briefing this morning in Australia, it was clearly stated that small hands-free earpieces emit a fraction of the radiation of mobile phone units and are, therefore, the preferable communication mode. Professor Bruce Armstrong responds to a question about radiation risks of hands-free units:
Hands-free operation generates a considerable variety of hazards itself principally through the hazard of distraction. This hazard has always existed for those who try to do two different tasks at the same time or who are not focusing on the core task, it is just that mobile communication is another source of the hazard.
The Interphone study has generated some debate but as the findings were inconclusive, it is likely that the debate will fade soon, or at least until the next study is released. The OHS advice on mobile phones is fairly consistent and is a reiteration of the general advice for new hazards – read, listen, discuss, consider and act. An informed decision is better than a knee-jerk reaction.