RF Damage

Aside from slips and falls, RF damage can be one of the most severe dangers to tower climbers. What makes it so risky is that RF waves can not be seen, wearing a properly functioning RF meter greatly reduces the risk of exposure, but even at low levels RF waves can have dramatic effects over time.

Exposure to electromagnetic fields leads to people becoming more electrically sensitive. This can lead to headaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, stress, burning sensations and rashes, skin prickling, achy muscles and pain. They can be mild to severe, even debilitating, depending on the person and the length of time they were exposed.

Since there is no proof that these symptoms are caused by the electro magnetic fields themselves, there is debate within the medical community as to whether these should constitute a true medical condition. Many double blind studies have shown that people who report electromagnetic sensitivity can not distinguish between real EMF fields and faux ones.

Even though the medical community is on the fence, the last decade has shown an increase in hypersensitivity cases reported and an increase of related diseases such as cancer, neurological disease, reproductive disorders (such as sterility), and immune system dysfunction. There have also been reports of kidney damage, genetic damage and a breakdown of the neurological system.
RF exposure can come from WiFi, cell towers, smart meters, etc… but because of factors such as proximity, many scientists say that the effects are negligible in day to day activities. For tower climbers though, the proximity is greatly tripled when compared to the exposure of a non tower climber.

The main sources of RF exposure for tower climbers come from the following places:

  • Broadcast towers: They will transmit at various RF frequencies and range from 550 kHz to 800 MHz and various ranges in between. Small radio stations can have an operating power of as little as a few hundred watts, where larger broadcast companies can be over a million. The amount of RF exposure depends on more than just the power output since some frequencies absorb into the human body easier than others. Both the EPA and OSHA have reported that even being in the general area of an active tower can put workers at risk of exposure.
  • Portable Radio Systems: These systems operate in narrow frequency bands between 30 and 1,000 MHz. They are used by fire departments, business radios, and radio paging services. The antennas used by these symptoms transmit intermittently so have not been considered a main area of RF exposure but they still have the potential for exposure.
  • Microwave Antennas: These mounted discs can be seen on rooftops and towers all over the country. They transmit microwave signals from less than a mile to more than 30 miles away. Despite the size of these discs, they transmit with very low power levels and are usually well below the recommended RF safety exposure limit.
  • Satellite Systems: Since these only receive RF signals and don’t transmit them, RF radiation is not an issue. They are much like the dishes used at residences. However, they do operate at high power levels so EMF danger may still be present.
  • Radar Systems: Used for detecting moving objects such as aircraft, boats and weather patterns. The operate between 300 MHz and 15 GHz. A number of factors significantly reduce the exposure to RF. Radar systems send EM waves in pulses and not continuously. This means the power emitted has a much lower peak pulse. Radar is directional and the RF energy is contained in beams, like a flashlight. They also rotate so the direction of the beam changes.

When working with any of these, be sure to wear your RF monitor and make sure it is properly functioning.