From Talk Markets
By Gloria Vogel
July 27, 2017
- Increased RF injuries may result from the proliferation of antennas to support expanding wireless activity.
- As workers and the medical community begin to better understand those RF injuries, the wireless industry could face increased RF safety awareness issues.
- Insurers no longer provide RF exposure coverage, so wireless providers may find property owners less willing to renew existing leases, or to lease space for antennas.
- An RF safety protocol could help protect workers and the financial interests of the wireless ecosystem.
Jobsite hazards, both seen and unseen, exist everywhere in our nation. All but a few of these safety challenges can be mitigated when corporations or industries decide to address them properly. Imagine an enterprise sector that utilizes a known human hazard and knowingly turns a blind eye to the health and safety of third party workers. Yet, this is exactly the situation surrounding radio frequency (RF) radiation within the wireless industry. Wireless carriers have long hidden behind the veil of federal compliance to avoid implementing a meaningful RF safety solution.
To date, the wireless industry has managed to stay relatively unscathed financially from injuries related to RF radiation. This is largely due to the medical community’s ignorance of the effects of RF injuries, either cognitive or physical. If experts in the medical community have no understanding of RF radiation, how can a worker realize they have been injured when RF radiation is invisible, odorless, and tasteless? Workers have no way of connecting their overexposure incident with the manifestation of symptoms, which may not arise immediately.
An Invisible Threat with Detrimental Impacts
The risk of RF radiation overexposure from transmitting antennas has long been recognized as a human health hazard and is identified as such by the FCC. RF radiation hazards from transmitting antennas can have thermal or cognitive/psychological injuries. Thermal injuries result in heating of tissue. Cognitive injuries manifest as memory loss, mood disorders, sleep disorders, and impaired or diminished cognitive function.
Global Insurers Withdraw from RF Exposure Coverage
In 2013, AM Best, the leading insurance rating agency, estimated that 250,000 workers are overexposed to radiation annually at wireless antenna sites. Since then, global insurers have chosen to exclude RF coverage from their policies. The last global insurer to exit the RF exposure market was Lloyd’s of London in 2015. The ramifications of insurance firms excluding RF coverage are considerable. Without insurance coverage, wireless providers may find property owners less willing to lease space for antennas and current property owners may be less willing to renew existing leases. Without adequate insurance, the risk to the property owners far outweighs the lease revenue they receive. A single uninsured RF injury claim can wipe out years of lease revenue and expose the property owner to expensive litigation costs.
In Harm’s Way
Historically, antennas have been placed at inaccessible, remote, or fenced locations to prevent accidental RF exposure. However, as the demand for better service has increased, antennas have continued to encroach into urban and residential areas. Wireless carriers now install antennas in the sides of buildings, on rooftops, or in faux-chimneys, many of which are disguised to the untrained eye. As such, a painter, roofer, or other contractor performing routine maintenance on the building is placed in immediate danger due to close proximity to transmitting antennas while remaining unaware of any potential hazard.
The Unaware Medical Community
The medical community is ill-prepared to handle RF overexposure cases since physicians are neither educated nor trained to recognize the symptoms of RF radiation overexposure. Furthermore, they lack the knowledge to treat overexposure injuries. RF overexposure injuries resemble a variety of other ailments and therefore are commonly misdiagnosed. To the insurance industry, these injuries are classified as “Incurred but Not Reported” and are a significant factor in their decision to exclude RF exposure coverage.
Preventing “The Next Asbestos”
Through calculated tactics, legal actions, and lobbying, the wireless carriers continue the false narrative that there are no injuries or risks to unsuspecting workers near RF transmitting antennas. As workers and the medical community begin to recognize RF injuries, claims will accumulate as the plaintiff’s bar becomes involved, and third-party litigation multiplies.
Fortunately, the industry still has time to address this issue responsibly by adopting a comprehensive RF safety protocol which will protect workers and the financial interests of the wireless ecosystem – including the major players: AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS), and Sprint (NYSE:S).
Gloria Vogel is currently an Adjunct Professor at NYU-SPS. She is also Executive Vice President at Treehouse Technologies, Inc., a firm dedicated to growing digital distribution of insurance products. She was previously a Senior Vice President at Drexel Hamilton, and a Managing Director at Vogel Capital Management, an investment and consulting firm based in New York City. Gloria is a financial analyst and has been a consultant to the insurance industry with many years of experience following the insurance sector. She was the U.S. investor relations contact at Swiss Re, where she also performed credit analysis on insurer counterparty risks, and reviewed private equity/venture capital investments. Earlier, she was an All-Star equity research insurance analyst at several major Wall Street investment banks.
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