September 14, 2010
Read the entire article by Gloria Vogel in the September 13, 2010 issue of Business Insurance.
Ms. Vogel is the managing director of New York-based Vogel Capital Management. She begins her analysis stating:
. . . an issue that mimics asbestos and is being ignored by insurers could soon hit their pocketbooks. Simply stated, everyone’s favorite form of wireless communication and commerce depends on radio frequency-producing base station antennas, which emit radio waves and microwaves that can harm humans.
Few insurance claims have been filed to date; but in all respects, RF radiation closely tracks with the early development of asbestos claims.
Based upon data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau, it is estimated that as many as 250,000 workers a year are compelled to work in close proximity and in front of RF transmitting antennas. When combined with the 15 years this issue has been in existence, the pool of potential claimants could be staggering.
Ms. Vogel clearly delineates the breadth of the issue in her definition of “the wireless ecosystem:”
The wireless ecosystem should not be confused with the much smaller commercial telecom industry. The wireless ecosystem encompasses all FCC licensees (federal, state, local and commercial), site owners, property managers, contractors, third-party workers, the utility industry, hospitals, schools and universities, church organizations, banks/financial institutions, and the insurance industry. It involves every person or entity that may be physically or financially harmed by RF radiation.
Ms. Vogel explains how workers’ antenna exposure differs from cellphone exposure and references the legal precedent from Alaska that awarded total disability to a worker whose antenna exposure only slightly exceeded the FCC RF radiation safety limit:
The significance of this topic is overlooked by insurers because of confusion between the harmful effects of cell phones and the damage caused by wireless antennas. Because there is no proven link yet established between cell phones and cancer, insurers see little exposure from this risk.
However, there is a marked difference between radiation exposure from cell phones and exposure from wireless antenna systems: The antennas are hundreds of times more powerful. More importantly, there already is peer-reviewed science from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers linking RF radiation exposure to cognitive injuries.
In addition, legal precedent has been established for such claims in AT&T Alascom and Ward North America Inc. vs. John Orchitt; State of Alaska, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Workers’ Compensation. The July 2007 ruling affirmed a 100% disability award to a worker exposed to RF radiation that only slightly exceeded the FCC human exposure limits.
By doing so, the Alaska Supreme Court established a legal precedent that recognizes the causal link between an RF radiation exposure and cognitive or psychological injuries including reduced brain function, memory loss, sleep disorders, mood disorders and depression.
Ms. Vogel concludes by encouraging the insurance industry to be proactive about worker RF radiation safety and push for a solution from the private sector rather than to wait for government to act:
The insurance industry tends to look backwards at historical claims to project future losses. In cases of emerging risk such as the issue of third-party worker overexposure to RF radiation, it would be far better for the industry to be anticipatory rather than reactive, as claims could develop quickly. It would be in the industry’s best interests to pre-empt the plaintiffs’ bar on this issue and secure a safe workplace for those third-party workers.