This section outlines how the Register began, the aims of the Register and the future objectives of the register.
The Stewart Report
In 1999, the Minister of Public Health asked the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) to set up an independent expert group to examine the possible effects on health from the use of mobile phone telecommunication technologies. The group, under the chairmanship of Sir William Stewart, published its report in May 2000 (Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones [IEGMP], 2000). One of the main conclusions was that there was no evidence to suggest that exposures to radiofrequency (RF) radiation below the guidelines of the NRPB and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) cause adverse health effects. Nevertheless, one of the recommendations was that a register of occupationally exposed workers be established to facilitate studies into cancer incidence, mortality or other potentially harmful effects. Specifically they concluded that,
”A register of occupationally exposed workers be established and that cancer risks and mortality be examined to determine whether there are any harmful effects. If any adverse effects of exposure to RF radiation are identified then the Health and Safety Executive should establish a system of health surveillance”
The HSE and the beginning of the Register
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) responded to this recommendation by holding a consultation meeting in January 2001 to which independent experts and those who in industries where RF was experienced were invited. At this meeting, a decision was made to establish a Working Group to discuss how the recommendation should be implemented. In an attempt to ensure involvement across the whole industrial sector, representatives from broadcast companies, mobile phone operators, contractors, the Ministry of Defence, National Grid, Trade Unions and HSE were included. Ultimately the Working Group agreed to set up a register of exposed workers with a potential for exposure to radio-frequency radiation with seed money for the establishment of the Register provided by the HSE.
Those eligible to enrol on the Register would all be workers with a potential for exposure to radio-frequency radiation above the levels deemed safe for public exposure. Information about the workers would be retained and maintained in a centralised database or register and the Institute of Applied Health Research (formerly the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Medicine - IOEM) was contracted to administer the database.
As the Register continued to grow the Working Group was disbanded and a more streamlined Steering Group created, its members drawn from the HSE and representatives from across the RF sector. For the last 15 years the Register has been sponsored by a range of organisations and the current sponsors are Arqiva, Leonardo, EE and Link Microtek.
The aims of the Register
The Register is intended to be used as a resource to explore any potential health effects experienced as a result of being occupationally exposed to RF radiation. The National Register of RF Workers will also seek to collaborate with international bodies undertaking similar research with the aim of contributing data and expertise and increasing understanding of the issue for the benefit of all those occupationally exposed to RF radiation.
To date, the Register contains data on over 2000 workers from a range of companies. The number of individuals enlisted continues to grow, as does the number of companies involved. It is expected that by the end of the recruitment period over 2,500 workers will have joined, which is sufficient for any findings of follow-up studies to be statistically significant. ‘Statistical significance’ in this case means that enough data have been collected to provide reliable results.
The first study to use the Register
The first study to use the Register to look at potential health effects in those with long-term occupational exposure is underway and is investigating cancer incidence and mortality studies within the study group (cohort). Preliminary results are expected to emerge in 2020.