Safety & Health News

The Hidden Dangers of Cell Phone Towers

Journal: Issue 1 - 2012

Danger can lurk just about anywhere on a construction project, but some hazards are literally hiding in plain sight, cautions BAC Executive Vice President Gerard Scarano. Scarano is referring to the risks posed by concealed or camouflaged cell towers or antennas that now populate the rooftops of office buildings, strip malls, condominiums, and schools – all types of structures – in greater numbers than ever before. The disguised nature of these towers and inadequate signage have created unsafe working conditions for those who work in close proximity to towers on rooftops or chimneys. The towers emit Radio Frequency (RF), non-ionizing radiation that can cause serious injury to the brain and nervous system.

Concern about the risks that these towers pose to BAC members surfaced last year at the BAC Labor-Management Craft Committees’ deliberations on practical jobsite safety solutions generated by the Masonry Industry Research to Practice Partnership, and with good reason. The explosive growth of cell phones and the recent popularity of smartphones have caused the number of cell towers to skyrocket from 25,000 in 1996 to 500,000, with that number expected to double in the near future. In response, many local governments have taken a stand against the unsightly nature of bare cell towers by passing “aesthetic” ordinances that impose restrictions on the location and appearance of towers, forcing wireless companies to erect camouflaged cell towers.

When a worker is exposed to the RF non-ionizing radiation, many potential injuries to the brain or nervous system can occur. Most are cognitive injuries such as reduced brain function, memory loss, poor judgment, and mood disorders including depression. Other injuries include light sensitivity, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and insomnia. Burns to the skin are also common with prolonged exposure. The initial sign of RF radiation exposure is a slight rise in body temperature as the victim experiences a “microwave-like” effect as the signal passes through the body, although it is possible that a person can suffer an RF radiation overexposure injury without even knowing it at the time of being overexposed.

BAC Executive Vice President Scarano urges members to remain alert to the presence of concealed cell towers or antennas on building rooftops or when working on nearby scaffolding. Adds Scarano, “RF is a concern for all workers, not just wireless workers. BAC and the Masonry Partnership are joining other workplace safety advocates in addressing RF safety in a comprehensive way.” For more information, go to http://www.ibew.org/IBEW/departments/safety/RF-ProblemSolution.htm

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