The ACMA is often asked questions by the public about radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME), including how we know whether EME-emitting devices are operating safely and whether there are problems with specific devices.
The ACMA takes potential EME-related risks seriously and has a multi-element strategy designed to address potential problems at all points in the ‘supply chain’—from design, to sale and installation, and operation over time. This strategy minimises the risks of any problems arising.
The strategy has seven key elements.
1. Use a risk based approach to targeting potential EME compliance issues and problems
At its heart, the ACMA’s approach uses an evidence-based risk assessment process to identify and deal with potential EME issues. This enables the ACMA to use resources efficiently and to deal with issues in an effective and practical manner.
In general, this means making use of the tools that are best suited to address a particular concern. More specifically, it means that the ACMA does not treat all devices and facilities the same. For example, high powered transmitters operated by major corporate entities pose different EME management issues than, say, the large-scale supply of low-powered consumer equipment. The ACMA assesses and updates its compliance work annually to take account of emerging technologies, deployments and changing market conditions. For example, during 2014-15 the ACMA placed particular emphasis on its EME compliance work. It focused on:
2. Set clear and enforceable rules based on the best evidence available
A bedrock element of any compliance strategy is having clear and enforceable rules for everyone involved, including manufacturers, transmitter operators and suppliers of devices.
These rules need to be, and are, based on the best available scientific evidence. In Australia, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) sets the EME human exposure limits in its Radiation Protection Standard for Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields – 3 kHz to 300 GHz (2002) (ARPANSA Standard). The ARPANSA Standard is produced using the considerable scientific expertise of that agency and is informed by extensive Australian and international research in the field. ARPANSA has adopted a very conservative approach in setting EME limits. The limits in the ARPANSA Standard are designed to protect against all known adverse health effects and include a significant safety factor.
The ACMA gives regulatory effect to the ARPANSA standard by applying technical requirements on devices before they can be supplied in Australia, as well as imposing conditions on the operation of facilities that emit EME. If you are interested in reading the detailed technical rules, the following are key documents:
Radiocommunications (Compliance Labelling - Electromagnetic Radiation) Notice 2014
Radiocommunications (Electromagnetic Radiation-Human Exposure) Standard 2014
Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Apparatus Licence) Determination 2015.
3. Monitor EME compliance for high risk devices and facilities
The ACMA uses a range of methods for monitoring EME compliance and for encouraging industry to self-monitor their activities and facilities. These methods include:
- auditing the documentation that equipment suppliers are required to keep (such as laboratory test reports)
- conducting targeted audits and investigations into suppliers and operators of EME-emitting equipment in areas of identified risk. This has included audits of a very wide range of devices and facilities, including mobile phones, smart meters, Wi-Fi devices, and mobile phone towers
- conducting individual site inspections where the ACMA has concerns, or where circumstances otherwise warrant
- undertaking broader inspection and radiofrequency measurements that inform our understanding of the EME environment as part of other ACMA activities (such as interference management).
4. Engage, educate and communicate with suppliers, manufacturers and associations
Another important element of any effective compliance program is making sure that key players in the product supply chain understand their obligations and take them seriously. This allows the ACMA to target appropriate messages to suppliers to prevent problems before they can occur. This messaging can consist of random checks and awareness programs, as well as a whole-of-government approach to inform all interested parties about their EME obligations.
5. Where appropriate, take formal enforcement action
Where the ACMA has concerns about EME compliance, it will formally investigate a supplier or licensee. If a licensee or supplier cannot show compliance, the ACMA has a range of actions it can take. Sometimes the ACMA will require the licensee to have their equipment expertly tested and measured by a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accredited body. NATA accreditation assures that testing is undertaken in accordance with relevant Australian standards—providing consistently reliable testing to the highest level of calibration and measurement available in Australia.
If breaches of the EME requirements are detected, the ACMA will, as appropriate, take further actions. Penalties range from formal warnings to criminal prosecution usually resulting in fines. Risk to public safety is a key consideration.
6. Work with other agencies and regulators
The ACMA also works extensively with other government agencies. We have close relations with the Department of Customs and Border Control and law enforcement agencies, as well as other regulators. The ACMA’s close relationship with ARPANSA helps with our public communications and keeps the ACMA up-to-date with how the science around EME is developing.
There is also an important international dimension to our compliance work. The supply market for radiocommunications equipment has evolved rapidly. While there continues to be a large number of devices entering the market, there are new supply methods evolving (for example, through the internet). These changes are not unique to Australia and, since much of the equipment supplied to our market is sourced overseas, the ACMA interacts with other regulators around the world to share experiences and deal with supply matters internationally.
7. Regularly review our compliance priorities and strategy
As noted under element (1) above, the ACMA adopts a risk and evidence based approach to our compliance activities. We annually review our strategy for dealing with EME. In developing its plan, the ACMA takes into account community interests and emerging areas of public concern. For example, in its 2014–15 review, the ACMA made EME compliance for wireless devices and facilities a Priority Compliance Area. This means that the ACMA is prioritising its resources for inspections, compliance activities and communications regarding Wi-Fi devices.
What have we found in our compliance activities?
To date, based on all of the strategies outlined above, the ACMA has consistently found a high level of compliance with the EME exposure limits. This means we have a correspondingly high level of confidence that there are currently no systemic problems with EME non-compliance. That is not to say that there may not be individual instances where concerns may arise. But our experience has been that these are rare. Where there have been apparent discrepancies, these have usually been a result of a failure by the supplier to keep the requisite evidential documentation, rather than a substantive problem with EME from the equipment.
The ACMA has found that, particularly with wireless and mobile networks, the telecommunications carriers have well documented and robust systems that accurately report EME exposure to be well within the ARPANSA limits. This is perhaps not surprising because network operators have commercial incentives to manage EME—in general, the less EME that is emitted, the fewer problems they will have in managing radiocommunications interference across their network.
In fact, a recent analysis of EME devices inspected found that all were operating at less than one per cent of the exposure limits. That means that even if they were to double, triple or quadruple their emissions, they would still fall well within the exposure limits set by ARPANSA. Additionally, as noted earlier, significant safety factors are incorporated into the exposure limits—that is, the limits are set well below the level at which all known adverse health effects occur.
What does the ACMA do with my complaint or concern about EME?
The ACMA takes all complaints about potential public health concerns seriously. Generally, the ACMA conducts an initial risk assessment of the issue based on its technical expertise and field experience. The ACMA then progresses the issue using the range of tools described above. Where the ACMA decides that an investigation is warranted, a common approach is to conduct a compliance audit. In cases where such audits leave the ACMA with residual concerns, the ACMA will then consider escalating the matter, using the most appropriate tool as described under element (5) above. We will communicate with complainants either during or at the end of an investigation as appropriate. If we decide an investigation is not required, you will also be informed.
If you have questions or feedback about compliance with EME obligations, please contact the ACMA’s Customer Service Centre on 1300 850 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.