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Electromagnetic Energy (EME) from telecommunications in Australia: The science behind the safety standard

Learn more about the safety standard that sets the limit for safe levels of Electromagnetic Energy (EME) in telecommunications.

Electromagnetic Energy (EME) has been part of life for a really long time.

And EME from telecommunications has been in use since the turn of the century.

As more and more sources of emitted EME become visible, it’s natural for people to seek reassurance as to how these energies are regulated.

Who sets the standard?

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) sets the standard for the radiofrequency EME that’s used in telecommunications.

ARPANSA is the Government’s leading authority on EME, and is set up to provide advice on how individuals and groups can safely coexist with this type of everyday energy.

ARPANSA’s research and recommendations are peer-reviewed, updated regularly and are reflective of international best practice.

What is the standard?

Before you look at ARPANSA’s standard, it’s useful to think about how the type of EME used in telecommunications fits within the electromagnetic spectrum.

The electromagnetic spectrum is basically science’s way of understanding all the different types of natural and artificial EME that exist, and how their different properties result in different behaviours.

You can split the electromagnetic spectrum into two sections – ionising and non-ionising.

Ionising EME, like X-Rays and Gamma Rays, has very high frequencies and very short wavelengths.

Non-ionising EME, like the radio frequency EME (RF EME) used in telecommunications, is at the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s characterised by longer wavelengths and lower frequencies, and not powerful enough to cause damage to humans or the environment.

ARPANSA’s standard outlines the amount of EME that can be emitted by telecommunications and still be safe.

The ARPANSA RF Standard (RPS S-1) has been developed to protect the public from exposure to RF EME by setting exposure limits. The Standard is based on scientific research and considers the levels at which harmful effects may occur and it sets the exposure limits, based on international best practice, well below these harmful levels.

The Standard is designed to protect people of all ages and health status against any potential adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME. The Standard is aligned with international guidelines prepared by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP) and endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

How does the standard keep me safe?

There are a few factors that contribute to ARPANSA’s standard.

These include developments in research and health studies, as well as regular consultation with national and international health bodies.

ARPANSA also takes advice from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) into consideration, and reviews and updates guidelines accordingly.

The RF EME Standard sets the maximum exposure limits for RF EME, and is based on decades of RF EME research.

The Standard also restricts public access to areas where exposure to RF EME may exceed the limit and specifies requirements for appropriate signage or notices of high level radio wave sources. It also provides detailed advice in the event that a member of the public is exposed to RF EME levels above the limit.

When telecommunications providers are distributing technology or installing infrastructure, like that involved in the rollout of the 5G network, they’re required to make sure the EME emitted by these devices stays within the safety limit set out in the standard.

Who enforces the standard?

The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) is responsible for enforcing this standard on telecommunications providers.

ACMA ensures telecommunications providers stick to the limits that have been set by ARPANSA, with telecommunications devices and infrastructure.

ACMA plays a significant role by ensuring all the devices that emit EME stay within the limits set by ARPANSA.