Public Health England (PHE) independently advises the government on public health matters. PHE has been clear that exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) is not new and that research on the topic anticipates no negative effects on public health. Central to PHE’s advice are the guidelines published by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The ICNIRP is formally recognised by the World Health Organisation and its guidelines underpin health protection policies at UK and European levels.
Ofcom is the authority responsible for authorising spectrum use, and recognises that people have health concerns relating to the impact of EMF emissions. Ofcom has expertise in measuring EMF emissions and currently has the power under Section 9ZA(1) of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 to impose licence conditions to protect the public from EMF and legal powers to hold spectrum users to account if issues are identified. Compliance with the ICNIRP Guidelines is already built into the mobile network operators’ Code of Best Practice on Mobile Network Development, and the operators must provide certificates confirming their compliance when applying for planning permission.
On 21 February 2020, Ofcom issued a consultation on “Proposed measures to require compliance with international guidelines for limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF)”. This consultation proposes to introduce a new condition in spectrum licences that will require licensees to ensure that EMF emissions from radio equipment complies with the relevant levels for general public exposure from the ICNIRP guidelines. This would ensure that Ofcom is in a position to take enforcement action in the event of non-compliance with the ICNIRP guidelines.
Ofcom has not held discussions with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). HSE has responsibilities in relation to occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields, whereas Ofcom’s proposals relate to general public exposure to EMF. As noted above, PHE is the relevant health authority which leads on public health matters related to EMF emissions and Ofcom have discussed their proposals with PHE.