FAQs – Safety Standards

How are ICNIRP standards set?

The ICNIRP standards are the de facto global safety standards for radio-frequency emissions. They are set by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) – an international expert body combining the scientific expertise of acknowledged experts in the field from around the world. In setting the standards, ICNIRP reviewed all the scientific evidence about the impact of RF, including both thermal effects and potential biological effects. In doing so they found that there was only evidence of a thermal effect. ICNIRP regularly reviews new scientific studies to look at whether changes to the guidelines are necessary.

The standard-setting methodology incorporates a precautionary approach. The standards are based on the threshold levels at which effects on body tissue from radio frequency emissions can be observed. This is the level which brings about, on average, a rise in overall body temperature of one degree Celsius within a six minute period. (Body temperature generally fluctuates by one degree during a typical day). Maximum emission levels are then set at one tenth of the threshold level for occupational use, and at one fiftieth for exposure of the general public. The difference takes account of the fact that occupational users are trained to use the equipment and that the occupational group excludes people like the elderly and children.

The ICNIRP guidelines, which aim to “establish guidelines for limiting exposure that will provide protection against known adverse health effects” were first published in the Health Physics Journal in 1998 and the methodology used and the standards can be accessed here. See also our page on “Standards”, click here.

What is ICNIRP?

ICNIRP is the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. It is a body of independent scientific experts with a main Commission of 14 members, 4 Scientific Standing Committees covering Epidemiology, Biology, Dosimetry and Optical Radiation and a number of consulting experts.

ICNIRP’s principal aim is to disseminate information and advice on the potential health hazards of exposure to non-ionising radiation to everyone with an interest in the subject. ICNIRP’s information and advice covers all of the non-ionizing radiations including, the optical radiations (ultraviolet, visible and infrared – and lasers), static and time-varying electric and magnetic fields and radiofrequency (including microwave) radiation, and ultrasound.

Much of the information that ICNIRP provides is published in the form of scientific reviews and reports and the proceedings of scientific meetings. The results of these reviews combined with risk assessments carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organization, WHO, result in the publication by ICNIRP of Exposure Guidelines. Examples of these are guidelines limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields, to laser radiation, to ultraviolet radiation, to incoherent optical radiation and to ultrasound.

All members of the main Commission, Scientific Standing Committees and Consulting Experts, are listed on the ICNIRP website – www.icnirp.org.

Do the standards take account of biological as well as thermal effects?

In setting the guidelines, ICNIRP reviews all the scientific evidence at a wide range of exposure levels, considering both thermal and potential biological effects. It has identified the level of intensity below which RF energy is not known to cause adverse health effects of any kind and the exposure limits were set a long way below this threshold to provide a safety margin.

Why are there different exposure guidelines for the general public and for occupational users?

The guidelines distinguish between occupational exposure and public exposure with the guidelines for the public being more stringent. This is because the public consists of a population that includes infants, elderly people and people who are ill who may be inadvertently exposed to RF, whereas people who work with RF are trained in the correct and safe use of the equipment.