What the mobile phone/cancer study means for workplaces

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.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories cancer, communication, distraction, electricity, evidence, OHS, research, risk, safety, technology, UncategorizedTags , ,

7 thoughts on “What the mobile phone/cancer study means for workplaces”

  1. People need to realize there is a reason our vocabulary, and the word RADIATION! My Son, Rich died of glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer October 11, 2008. His neurosurgeon at the time told us it was his cell phone useage. I found articles and a video on the internet, August 7, 2009, about a brain cancer cluster on the SDSU campus in San Diego. My Son, Rich, was the graduate student referred too. Rich, was 28 at the time of diagnosis, and lived 7 months, and died one week after his 29th birthday! There is a Cell Tower, which I investigated, and it is a FUSION Center for Homeland Security! EMF\’s are VERY DANGEROUS!!! Here is one of the links:
    http://www.associatedcontent.com/video/157097/sdsu_room_haunted_by_cancer.html?cat+64
    http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/articles/2009/03/11/science/960sdsu031009.txt

  2. The probable reason why the study remains inconclusive is due to the ubiquity of mobile phone usage. It would be hard to separate out non-mobile causes for the cancer. But it is important that manufacturers take note anyway and ensure better electromagnetic shielding even for cheaper low end phones.

    1. Some of the experts at the recent media briefing on the issue noted that we do not know the health consequences of wi-fi networks, Bluetooth and other new technologies, just as we were not aware of the potential effects of x-rays and RF when those technologies were new.

      Also, there is research being undertaken on the the possible radiation effects on the brains of young people and children whose brains, apparently, react differently. (I think the research is called \”mobi-kids\”) Many parents purchase the cheaper low end phones as their child\’s first phone or provide children with outdated phone models which may operate with a higher radiation emission rate.

      I support the development of phone models that emit a minimal level of radiation but consumers need to be aware of the radiation/design changes to mobile phones and currently this type of information is rarely being presented at the point of purchase.

  3. The risk is definitely not a new one, and certainly not something that the public is blind too. We all know that putting the phone to our ears time after time poses a major health risk.

  4. As an addendum:

    This issue is huge and needs to be kept in focus by all parties involved in OHSW as the pervasive nature of mobility is going to see the problem escalate rather than diminish and it is not only the risk of cancer but all of the other issues surrounding the safe use of mobile technology.

    OHSW training for the massively increased use of IT mobility solutions is virtually non existent, apart from the general policing of mobile phone use in motor vehicles.The hazards that apply in the motor vehicle have roughly the same consequences in the work place particularly in machinery operational areas. I leave the rest to those learned professionals who are well versed in risk and hazard identification.

    1. I think it also helps to remember that radio frequency (RF) as a hazard has been acknowledged for decades. so the issue is not a new hazard that has appeared with mobile phones. The hazard is well established, it is only the mechanism for transmission of the hazard which is new.

  5. Two Cavernous haemangioma bleeds on the brain at exactly the same site within 2 years after the first was excised, for a person who is required to use a mobile phone as part of his job for an average of 6 hours per day, certainly brings into sharp focus the matter of radiation effect on thin wall blood vessels in the brain particularly when the phone is used within millimetres of the site of the problem. Suspicious to say the least.

    Based on the good professors comments I would think this has all the hallmarks of a significant safety hazard and failure to act on the part of employers who are erring on the side of \”we will keep doing it until we are told not to\” and then blame the medical fraternity for not trying harder to provide a definitive answer.

    The issue is the recognition of a potential risk and eliminating it as rapidly as possible and if our experts are not prepared to say definitively, it is not a risk, then it is a risk and must be managed. There are enough lab rats and mice who have been affected to cause concern, so we should be concerned and any organisation involved in the mobile phone industry should be specifically excluded from having anything to do with research into potential health issues apart from contributing to the ongoing totally independant world research via a levy on accounts of say 1.5% globally, that should get us quality, definitive answers very regular basis.

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