In response to public concerns, regarding the risk of exposure to electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions from the 4G & 5G mobile phone network, OFCOM has introduced a new requirement for all radio spectrum users to ensure that their equipment does not pose a danger to the general public. This includes all marine communications and associated electronics such as radio, radar and other emergency alerting equipment and applies to vessel and shore-based installations such as yacht clubs.
OFCOM has introduced a new condition that will appear on all new and renewed licences. New licensees must comply with the regulations with immediate effect, whilst license renewals will have between 6 and 12 months, depending upon equipment carried, to comply.
On 01 March 2021, OFCOM published their Guidance on EMF Compliance and Enforcement. We are now aware that simultaneously, OFCOM contacted all licensees to tell them that they are varying the terms and conditions of their licences. The guidance is written in broad terms and is primarily aimed at mobile phone network operators; however, it applies equally to marine licensees. It is clear to us that this has caused considerable disquiet, not least because licensees are struggling to unravel the technical jargon and therefore the details of how to comply is far from clear.
Nevertheless, the RYA has worked closely with OFCOM to ensure that the new measures do not compromise the safety of lives at sea and above all are proportionate and pragmatic. To assist you in interpreting the requirements, here is the RYA’s guidance:
Potential enforcement action
The regulations cite significant penalties for non-compliance; however, this should be put into the context that these regulations are aimed at the mobile phone network operators.
OFCOM, in its guidance, has stated that: “OFCOM intends to take a proportionate and pragmatic approach to compliance and enforcement. It is not our intention to immediately take enforcement action and impose a financial penalty or other sanctions on a spectrum user if a site on which they are present is found to be in breach of the ICNIRP general public levels regardless of the circumstances. Whilst we may consider such action to be appropriate in certain circumstances, our key objective is to foster and facilitate a climate of compliance across all spectrum users subject to an EMF condition."
One of the RYA’s concerns related to the definition applied to family and friends. OFCOM has assured the RYA, and it is stated in their guidance notes that: “We will take all relevant circumstances into account when deciding whether to take enforcement action and what enforcement action may be the most appropriate, noting that proactive enforcement in relation to family and friends is unlikely to be our priority."
The RYA will provide further guidance on how to make effective use of the OFCOM EMF calculator.