Mobile phone safety

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Mobile phones are more than just a business tool. They are now a popular means of communication, a safety aid and an essential part of many people's lives. Base stations are transmitters (sometimes called masts) that use radio waves to communicate with mobile phone handsets.

Radio waves are low-energy radiation waves that transmit through the antenna on a mobile phone. The radio waves transmit to the base station and back again. Base stations are surrounded by electromagnetic fields, an energy force that is created when electricity is generated.

Safety concerns

The use of radio waves and magnetic fields in relation to mobile phones and base stations has become a safety concern for some people.

The Department of the Environment Community and Local Government is responsible for the health effects of non-ionising radiation ,including electromagnetic fields.The current evidence relating to mobile phone safety suggests that

  • There is no general risk to the health of people living near base stations because radiation exposure is a fraction of current guidelines.
  • Radio waves at their current guideline levels can cause a change in brain activity, although it is not known why.
  • A limited use of mobile phones is recommended. This is due to the lack of sufficient scientific knowledge currently available about the subject.


Useful Links

Health A-Z: radiation

What the MTHR report found:

  • there is no evidence linking short-term mobile phone use with cancers of the brain and nervous system
  • there is no evidence that mobiles affect brain function or cause unpleasant symptoms
  • however, it is too early to say whether mobiles are safe in the long term, and further research is needed in this area

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Radio waves and body absorption

The radio waves that are received and sent by mobile phones transmit in all directions to find the nearest base station. This means that some of the radio waves will be directed at your body when you use a mobile phone.

Radio waves are absorbed into your body tissue as energy, which adds to the energy being produced by your body's metabolism. This can cause a very small rise in temperature in your body and, more specifically, in your head.

This effect of radio waves on your body is measured using specific absorption rates (SAR). SAR is a measure of the amount of energy absorbed. The units of measurement are watts per kilogram (W/kg) or milliwatts per gram (mW/g). The higher the SAR, the more energy your body is absorbing, and the higher the rise in temperature.

Current research shows that radio waves from mobile phones cause a rise in temperature of up to 0.1°C. This does not pose a known risk to health. Some mobile phones have better specific absorption rates (SARs) than others. You can obtain this information from your mobile phone manufacturer or retailer.

Risks to children

Children are thought to be at higher risk of health implications from the use of mobile phones. This is because their skulls and cells are still growing and tend to absorb radiation more easily.

It is recommended that children use mobile phones only if absolutely necessary.

Research and evidence

Continuing research is being carried out to see if there are any substantial health risks associated with mobile phone use and base station emissions.

In 2007, an independent research report was published. The report looked into health implications of mobile phones and mobile phone masts

There is no clear evidence that people living or working near base stations are at risk from the radiation. Base stations do not need planning permission before they are erected. However, schools should regularly monitor the emissions of base stations situated inside or close to school grounds.

Driving and mobile phones

Around 80% of drivers have or regularly use a mobile phone. Surveys suggest that you are four times more likely to have an accident if you are using a mobile phone while driving.In addition, It an offence to use a handheld phone or similar device when driving (this includes calling and texting). Drivers still risk prosecution for failure to have proper control of their motor vehicle if they use hands-free phones when driving.

Mobile phones and hospital equipment

Different hospitals have different rules regarding mobile phone use. Therefore, always check with hospital staff before you use your phone.

Mobile phones can cause disruption in hospitals. They can disturb patients who are resting and could be confused with alarm bells on medical equipment.

The radio waves from mobile phones can also interfere with medical devices, such as monitors.

If a hospital does not allow the use of mobile phones on their site, they will display posters around the building saying so. All patients, visitors and staff should follow the hospital's rules.

Useful Links

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

You can lower exposure to radio waves in the following ways.

  • Only make short calls on your mobile phone, and do not use it more than necessary.
  • Children should only use mobile phones for essential purposes and keep all calls short.
  • Find out the specific absorption rate (SAR) of a mobile phone before you buy it. This is how much radio wave energy is absorbed into the body from the mobile phone. SAR can vary between different types of phones. Mobile phone retailers have a responsibility to make this information available to you before you buy.
  • Keep your mobile phone away from your body when it is in standby mode.
  • Only use your phone when the reception is strong - this is often indicated by bars of energy on your phone screen. Weak reception causes the phone to use more energy to communicate with the base station.
  • Use a mobile phone that has an external antenna. This keeps the radio waves as far away from your head as possible.

The Department for Transport recommends the following guidelines for safe use of mobile phones in cars.

  • Keep your mobile phone switched off when you are driving. You can use voicemail, a message service, or call diversion to pick up your messages at the end of your journey.
  • If you need to use your mobile phone, stop in a safe place. Do not stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway unless it is an emergency.
  • Avoid using a hands-free device. These can be just as distracting as using the phone itself.

Useful Links

Health A-Z: radiation

Content provided by NHS Choices and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

Browse Health A-Z