Ofcom's rules on EMF exposure
Most spectrum licences issued by Ofcom include a condition (the EMF licence condition) requiring licensees to ensure compliance with the limits in the ICNIRP Guidelines on EMF exposure for the protection of the general public. We refer to these limits as the “general public EMF limits”. The condition applies to licensees whose radio equipment is currently authorised to transmit at powers higher than 10 Watts EIRP or 6.1 Watts ERP.
The condition does not cover:
- exposure of the licensee and does not therefore require licensees to protect themselves from EMF; or
- exposure of workers and does not therefore require licensees to protect workers from EMF. Further information on exposure of workers is provided in the link at the bottom of this page.
Our rules on EMF exposure have been subject to two public consultations (which were published on our website), as well as the formal licence variation consultation procedure.
We published our first consultation (PDF, 1.0 MB) on 21 February 2020. We proposed to formally require licensees that can transmit at powers above 10 Watts EIRP (or 6.1 Watts ERP) to comply with the general public EMF limits. We received nearly 400 responses to this consultation.
After considering all responses to this consultation, in our October 2020 statement (PDF, 1.1 MB), we decided to vary spectrum licences to formally require licensees to comply with the general public EMF limits.
We made this decision because there was in our view a risk that some licensees may not be fully aware of the general public EMF limits and may not be fully taking EMF exposure levels into account when installing, using or modifying radio equipment. We were also concerned that some licensees may not have appropriate processes in place to monitor the levels of EMF exposure levels and ensure compliance with the general public EMF limits on an ongoing basis.
We also noted that current regulatory regimes on EMF exposure do not formally require licensees to comply with the general public EMF limits and do not put Ofcom in a position where we could take appropriate enforcement action in the event the limits are breached. We did however make some changes to our proposed EMF licence condition taking into account all the comments we received.
Alongside our October 2020 statement, we published draft Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement and a trial version of our EMF calculator to help licensees comply with the proposed new EMF licence condition. We also published a further consultation (PDF, 419.2 KB) on the specific drafting changes we made to the wording of our proposed EMF condition and our Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement. We received 85 responses to this consultation.
We also had further discussions relating to our proposed EMF licence condition with industry and stakeholder bodies including the Radio Society of Great Britain, the Royal Yachting Association and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Taking into account the comments we received, we made some further changes to our proposed EMF licence condition and Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement.
On 1 March 2021, we published an update on our proposed EMF licence condition (PDF, 865.1 KB). Alongside this update we published a General Notice of Proposal to Vary, giving licensees formal notice of our proposal to vary their licences. We invited licensees to submit any representations they wished to make about the proposed variation by 18 April 2021.
To help licensees comply with our proposed EMF licence condition, on 11 March 2021 we published draft versions of simplified guidance as well as additional targeted guidance for maritime (including ship) radio licensees and amateur radio licensees. We also published an EMF compliance flowchart.
We received nearly 70 responses to the proposed licence variation and had further discussions with industry and stakeholder bodies also including the Light Aircraft Association.
Taking into account all further comments received, we decided to go ahead with our proposal to vary most spectrum licences to include a new EMF licence condition. Listening to licensees’ concerns, we did however make some further changes to our proposed EMF licence condition and Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement.
On 18 May 2021, we published our General Notice of Final Decision (PDF, 753.8 KB). This General Notice explained the reasons for our decision (in particular see paragraphs A1.9 – A1.21) and gave affected licensees formal notice of our final decision to vary their licence(s) to include the new EMF licence condition.
This EMF licence condition requires all affected licensees to comply with the general public EMF limits and keep records demonstrating compliance.
Alongside our Final Decision, we published an updated version of our Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement, an updated version of our EMF compliance flowchart (PDF, 241.5 KB) and a new flowchart to help licensees comply on sites they share with other licensees.
On 17 June 2021, we published updated versions of our simplified guidance as well as additional targeted guidance for (i) maritime (including ship) radio licensees and (ii) amateur radio licensees. We also published new targeted guidance for aeronautical radio licensees as well as an updated version of our EMF calculator.
You can read all our policy documents, along with other supporting documents and stakeholders' responses to our consultation proposals.
If your licence is in a licence class which authorises transmit powers above 10 Watts EIRP (or 6.1 Watts ERP), it has now been varied to include the new EMF licence condition. However, if your individual licence does not currently allow you to transmit at powers above 10 Watts EIRP (or 6.1 Watts ERP), you will not need to take any action to demonstrate compliance with this condition.
Health and safety law in the UK places duties on persons who create risks relating to work and the workplace including risks related to EMF exposure. HSE is the enforcement authority for health and safety law in the UK and has published guidance on the requirements on employers to protect workers from EMF.
- 5G mobile technology – a guide produced by Ofcom and Government (PDF, 604.2 KB)
- Ofcom – Masts and planning
- Public Health England – Mobile phone base stations: radio waves and health
- Public Health England – Radio waves: reducing exposure from mobile phones
- Public Health England – 5G technologies: radio waves and health
- Scottish Government – 5G and public health position statement
- Public Health Wales – information on radiation
- World Health Organization (WHO) – Electromagnetic Fields
- WHO – Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones
- ICNIRP Guidelines (1998) for limiting exposure to time-varying electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic Fields (up to 300 GHz), Health Physics Vol. 74, No 4, pp 494-522, 1998
- ICNIRP Guidelines (2020) for limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields (100 kHz to 300 GHz)
- ICNIRP – 5G Radiofrequency EMF