Carriers Alone Cannot Fully Protect Workers from RF Radiation at Cell Sites
In 2013, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), in part, to “ensure that [the FCC’s] measures are compliant with [the FCC’s] environmental responsibilities and requirements and that the public is appropriately protected from any potential adverse effects from RF exposure….” 1 Comments were solicited from the wireless industry and the public to better inform the rulemaking changes. Rather than recommending precautions to help protect more people, several comments from the carriers recommend removing liability through “safe harbor” as they admit that protecting third party workers at certain sites is out of their control, even though it is their FCC obligation.
Third party workers such as firefighters, roofers, HVAC technicians, electricians, painters, window washers, sheet metal workers, and utility workers among others maintain structures that can host RF transmitting antennas. Yet, third party workers, or “transient workers,” as described by carrier comments, pose a safety problem that carriers themselves admittedly cannot resolve.
In comments to the FCC, Verizon admits that carriers are unable to ensure the safety of workers because carriers do not have full control of their sites.
Carriers alone cannot control transient individuals nor employees of others that may access areas surrounding transmitters at these sites for occupational reasons.2
In comments to the FCC, AT&T confirms the need for education of third parties but asks to not be held accountable if their “reasonable efforts” are insufficient. What exactly is “reasonable efforts” when it comes to a person’s safety?
AT&T agrees that licensees making reasonable efforts to educate and warn third parties about potential exposure risks and mitigate those risks should not be subject to enforcement action if exposure occurs despite those efforts.3
In subsequent comments to the FCC, Verizon echoed AT&T’s comments requesting a safe harbor from the FCC’s RF radiation exposure regulations, meaning carriers would no longer have the same level of liability and instead be judged based on “best efforts” to keep people safe.
Verizon also proposed . . . adopting clear safe harbor carrier mitigation procedures for sites where transmitters produce emissions over the Commission’s ‘general population’.4
In a series of ex parte letters to the FCC, Verizon repeatedly states that they are unable to meet their compliance obligations and ensure third-party worker safety due to Verizon’s lack of control over structures that host their antennas.
Verizon is committed to operating and does in fact operate safe and effective transmitters, but carrier compliance should not be dependent on the actions of third parties that carriers cannot control.5
Verizon is committed to operating and does in fact operate safe and effective transmitters, but the actions of third parties that carriers cannot control may limit in some cases what carriers can do to prevent unauthorized access to transmitter sites.6
We discussed the need for the Commission to adopt safe harbors with respect to carrier efforts to restrict access to and notify the public about the presence of radiofrequency emissions (RFE) on rooftops and at other accessible wireless transmitter locations. Verizon remains committed to – and in fact does operate – safe and effective transmitters, but there are limits to our ability to control the actions of third parties.7
Third party workers risk their health and wellbeing by maintaining structures that host wireless transmitting antennas. Their health should be protected and championed by an $188.5B industry that benefits from their work. Yet, comments from carriers try to remove liability and reduce responsibility to “best effort,” rather than having a meaningful and comprehensive RF safety solution. Just because a solution is difficult does not mean worker safety can be sacrificed.
National Antenna & Tower Safety Center (NA&TSC) has solved the challenges to worker RF safety that Verizon and AT&T outlined in their comments. As evidence of the solution, global insurers have vetted the patented process, protocols, and system, and have partnered with NA&TSC to offer RF Indemnity Shield™, an RF safety insurance product.
Worker safety can no longer be disregarded, especially now that a solution exists to the industry challenges. We owe it to the workers and their families to ensure that they are protected from the hazards of RF radiation at their job sites.
It’s time for the wireless industry to do the right thing and adopt the NA&TSC safety protocol.