Vodacom engages with the South African Health Department’s Directorate for Radiation Control annually to keep informed about any developments in local regulation. The industry is currently anticipating a draft South African RF standard for best practice..
While increased network coverage is generally welcomed as it facilitates an excellent level of service to our customers, some people are concerned about the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) exposure. To date, experts have not found any convincing evidence that EMF exposure when operated within international guidelines is harmful to human health; however, some individual research studies have suggested that using a mobile phone could affect health. We recognise these concerns and are committed to safeguarding the health and safety of our customers, employees and the public.
The International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines establish permitted levels of EMF exposure, and mobile phones and antennas are designed to operate within these stringent levels. The levels include a safety margin designed to assure the safety of all persons, regardless of age and health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) endorses the ICNIRP’s guidelines, and is conducting an international EMF risk assessment programme. Until the WHO concludes its international risk assessment, at Vodacom, we align our EMF policy with the WHO’s contemporary best practice recommendations.
In May 2010, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published the first combined findings from all study centres of the Interphone study, a major piece of research into the possible health effects of mobile phones. The study concluded that overall no increase in risk of glioma or meningioma (tumours of the head) was observed with the use of mobile phones. While researchers reported that there were suggestions that there may be an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, they discussed the limitations in the study that prevent a causal interpretation. IARC recommends further investigation into long-term heavy use of mobile devices. International studies into such long term use and use by children are already underway, as the WHO has already identified these as priorities.
The overall findings are consistent with expert reviews of the large body of existing research. More than 30 authoritative expert reviews over the last eight years, including work by the World Health Organization, have found no adverse health effects from using mobile devices operating within international safety guidelines.
The Vodacom Group has an EMF Council that meets three to four times a year. Representatives from group marketing, regulatory, legal, operations, communications, CSI and health and safety sit on the Council and act as risk owners. The local markets are represented by the EMF leader for the Group, who reports on Vodafone EMF requirements, best practice and current research. The Group EMF leader keeps track of recent developments in EMF Health and Safety research through attendance of international forums, and in conjunction with the Vodafone EMF leadership. Minutes from the EMF Council meetings are then reported back to the CEO by the Council Chairman. The matter is governed at the policy level by Vodafone’s Health, Safety and Well-being Standard.
The purpose of the EMF Council is to ensure that the multi-faceted nature of EMF risk management is identified and mitigated. Group internal audit assists the EMF leader in managing the risk by auditing the individual areas of the business and determining whether or not controls are adequate and effective. The Risk Management Committee reports on developments to the Vodacom Board.
Vodacom engages with the South African Health Department’s Directorate for Radiation Control annually to keep informed about any developments in local regulation. The industry is currently anticipating a draft South African EMF standard and best practice protocol. Local communities are engaged on a case-by-case basis when commissioning new base station sites and an extensive corporate communications plan is in place to improve relationships with municipalities. Vodacom SA and its consultants are now engaging with municipalities in more constructive and imaginative ways in order to facilitate a better understanding by interested and affected parties involved in the EMF issue.
Information on EMF exposure is communicated to customers through the website (section on ‘base station safety’), and supplies data on base station field measurements recorded across the network at http://emf.vodacom.co.za.
A stakeholder engagement opinion survey was undertaken by Nunwood Consulting in 2008, commissioned by Vodafone Group, to provide independent feedback on the health of Vodafone’s EMF stakeholder relationships, and Vodacom was involved as operating Vodafone Group company. One hundred stakeholders were surveyed over more than 20 markets. The number per market was not large enough to provide reliable statistical information, but rather gives an indication of stakeholder satisfaction across the Vodafone Group.
The findings and recommendations emanating from the survey may best be summarised as follows:
- The Vodafone Group (including Vodacom) should highlight to stakeholders the education/consultation initiatives that it undertakes to reassure the general public that it has a responsible approach toward EMF risk management;
- The Vodafone Group should pursue a policy of co-location of masts wherever possible;
- Following the initial consultation process that accompanies the installation of a mast, the Vodafone Group should issue further communications detailing how public concerns have been taken into account;
- Stakeholders have demonstrated concerns about handset use by children, and the Vodafone Group should be mindful of this and ensure that marketing campaigns do not appeal directly to minors;
- Safety information should be provided with handsets at the point of sale to allow the user to make better informed decisions about responsible usage;
- Personal (face-to-face) interaction with stakeholders is the most effective way of conveying the Vodafone Group’s responsibility toward EMF matters;
- The EMF resources available online are valued by those who use them; however, to encourage engagement and awareness, local EMF teams should remind stakeholders that the web resource is available.
It is anticipated that there will be a follow-up survey in the last quarter of the 2010/11 financial year.
Within the Vodafone global team, the EMF toolkit, an electronic communication channel developed by Vodafone, has been rolled out. This includes an ongoing training program across Vodacom designed to raise awareness in the area of EMF Risk Communication. Sections of the training programme will soon be integrated with the activities of the Vodacom Group Communications team to enhance their media response library.
Vodacom SA is aiming for 100% compliance with the Vodafone Group Policy Standard on EMF Health and Safety by October 2010.
Other local markets
Vodacom Lesotho regularly engages the Lesotho Regulatory Authority is, and an external stakeholder engagement framework has been developed with its own dedicated management position. EMF exposure issues are driven by the legal and regulatory division with the Managing Director monitoring activity. Still in its infancy, key issues for each stakeholder have been identified. Prior to being included in the stakeholder engagement framework for more focused communication, local authorities were communicated with on an ad hoc basis.
In Mozambique, EMF exposure is managed by the subcontracted auditor EMSS. While there has been no interaction with regulatory bodies to date, Group policies on monitoring of EMF exposure are complied with. As part of the external stakeholder engagement strategy, the aim is to start engaging selected institutions about the company’s initiatives to address EMF exposure. Full compliance of high priority rooftop sites to the Vodafone standard is nearing completion. Thirty-eight employees have undergone EMF training.
The Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) and the National Environmental Management Council are engaged with regularly in respect to EMF exposure. The TCRA has recently issued a public notice on the effect of EMF Exposure. (www.tcra.go.tz).
There is currently no public body for regulating EMF exposure in the DRC. This risk is managed internally and in the absence of formal regulation the company aims to ensure compliance with Group and international best practice.