Controlled microwave and EMF risks and hazards

Risks and hazards

Introduction

Working in areas with strong, exposed electromagnetic radiation presents a significant risk and therefore requires a set of safety procedures to be considered. On this page we will look at the risks and hazards presented by this kind of work, and you will see the corresponding safety advice on the following page.

The two main activities that go on at the university that present a high-moderate risk of exposure are working with/near radio transmitters or satellites (usually on the roofs of university buildings) and building equipment that transmits radio or microwaves. While the controlled activities themselves may be different, they present the same risks, i.e. those associated with over-exposure to microwave and radio radiation.

Risks

The particular risks of controlled activities depend on which type of radiation you will be exposed to (this depends on the frequency of the electromagnetic waves emitted by equipment). If you will be exposed to all of the types listed below, then all of the risks apply.

Frequencies between 1Hz and 10MHz (low-frequency radio waves) can affect nervous system function, causing muscle twitches and spasms. If you are handling other equipment you may lose control of it and injure yourself.

Frequencies between 10MHz and 10GHz (radio waves, including satellites) can cause localised heating and whole-body heating. Increases in the core body temperature can cause a range of symptoms: an increase of as little as 2°C can cause severe sweating, breathlessness and exhaustion (this is particularly dangerous if you're on a roof), while an increase of 4°C or more is considered a medical emergency and can kill you.

Frequencies between 10GHz and 300GHz (microwaves and radio waves, including satellites) can cause heating of surface areas of the body . This should not cause anything more than mild discomfort, although it can, in extreme cases, lead to burns or reddening of the skin.

Note: all frequencies can interfere with electronic medical implants such as pacemakers.

If in doubt, ask!

If you are unsure which frequencies of electromagnetic radiation you will be exposed to, you can ask the Radiation Protection Service for advice. Our email address is radiation@leeds.ac.uk.

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