Why Does Workplace Radio Frequency Safety Get So Little Respect?
It is our experience that RF safety accountability and hazard avoidance is well established in the wireless communications sector. However, hazardous industrial RF is widely encountered in a wide variety of industry settings through all manner of process equipment and non-radio systems. Many of these systems are benign just out of the manufacturer’s shops, but through poor maintenance, improper RF shielding, or integration modification can engender all manner of shock and burn problems, not to mention the capability of actually starting fires in surrounding work areas. Often, there is no formal RF safety training provided to workers as OSHA requires. An emerging area of concern is the impact of stray RF on other processes and electronic systems. We have encountered some scary cases.
One case involved a large computer controlled cutting table where the knife would periodically take off on uncommanded excursions, imperiling attendants and ruining feedstock. The problem was a high power plastic welder two rooms over that was improperly shielded, interacting with the cutter controller. Although there were numerous other potentially hazardous systems, the quite conscientious safety director had no idea that he had RF exposures that should be included in his plan. We see this time after time in industry.
In another, we investigated the RF sensitivity of the braking controller on a popular theme park terror ride that plunged visitors a hundred feet before safely stopping them! The park proposed to place a trunking radio base station and antennas next to the ride control room. The much greater liability was found when LBA was called on to audit FCC RF hazard (OET-65) compliance for the antenna. The ride turned out to be safe when the controller cabinet doors were placarded against opening while the base station was in operation.
LBA comes out of the radio transmission industry where this is a normal part of safety planning. We are really puzzled why the industrial safety community seems often to not take RF safety into account. How might we improve the general situation? We would appreciate you sharing your insights here.
For assistance with RF safety services, please contact Mike Britner.