What is OFCOM proposing?

OFCOM recently published a consultation requiring compliance with international guidelines on electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions. These are known as the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines.

OFCOM is proposing to include a specific condition in Wireless Telegraphy Act licences requiring licensees i.e. licenced equipment end users, to comply with the ICNIRP Guidelines and would apply to all radio equipment that is authorised to transmit at powers above 10 Watts.

Why is OFCOM doing this?

OFCOM thinks there is a risk that some spectrum users may not be fully aware of the ICNIRP Guidelines and may not be fully taking EMF emissions into account when installing or modifying radio equipment. It is also concerned that some spectrum users may not have appropriate processes in place to monitor the levels of EMF emissions and ensure compliance with the ICNIRP Guidelines on an ongoing basis.

As a result, OFCOM invited comments on three questions:

1. Do you agree with our proposal to take steps to mitigate risks related to EMF and be in a position to hold licensees, installers and users to account if issues are identified? 

2. Do you agree with our proposal (a) to include a condition in spectrum authorisations requiring compliance with the basic restrictions for general public exposure identified in the ICNIRP Guidelines; and (b) that this condition should apply to equipment operating at powers greater than 10 Watts?

 3. Do you agree with our proposed guidance on EMF compliance and enforcement?

The RYA response

The RYA does not believe that the proposed steps will provide any additional mitigation to the risks related to EMF than the pre-existing measures that have been in place since 1998. Ofcom has offered no evidence of non-compliance by maritime communication licensees that demonstrates that such action is needed. 

Marine communications equipment, including, but not limited to, radios, radar, search and rescue transponders and emergency position indicating beacons are intrinsic elements of the marine safety environment. The RYA believes that the imposition of additional regulatory burden may have the unintended consequence that some recreational mariners opt to dispense with essential life-saving equipment.

Ofcom has not defined how it will monitor and enforce compliance at a time when it has significantly reduced its technical engineering capacity/ability in successive rounds of efficiency savings. Given the sheer number, geographic spread and often transient nature of UK leisure vessels, the RYA firmly believes that enforcement on this scale would be untenable and therefore wholly ineffective.

Currently, there is no training or guidance available to Marine Radio and equipment operators for the measurement and recording of EMF radiation.

Product safety legislation ensures that radio equipment meets the essential requirements of the Radio Equipment Directive. This states: Manufacturers shall ensure that the radio equipment is accompanied by instructions and safety information in a language which can be easily understood by consumers and other end-users, as determined by the Member State concerned. Instructions shall include the information required to use radio equipment in accordance with its intended use. By using compliant equipment installed to the manufacturers’ instructions, licensees will by default remain below the accepted guideline levels.

Ofcom has provided no evidence to suggest that the current arrangements are failing to meet their stated objectives. The RYA believes that the current Product Safety Legislation is sufficient to manage the limited risks of exposure to EMF within the leisure and small commercial marine environment.

The RYA supports guidelines to follow manufacturers’ instructions, however, we reject the inclusion of specific conditions to ensure compliance with EMF safety limits, as SRC radio operators are not equipped with this level of technical expertise. Furthermore, it should not be incumbent on operators or licence holders of relevant equipment to determine that manufacturers’ instructions are adequate and appropriate for their particular circumstances.

In conclusion

The RYA believes that, in the absence of rigorous risk and evidence analysis, the proposed regulatory changes could adversely affect the safety of recreational and small commercial boating and that the proposed method of monitoring and enforcement would be disproportionate, ineffective and unenforceable.

We have asked OFCOM to provide clarity on the next steps in the consultation process and we will continue to monitor the situation and provide further updates as and when available.

If you are a member of the RYA and require further information about the OFCOM consultation, please email cruising@rya.org.uk