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Employers urged to heed cellphone warning

Jun 01 2011 15:26 Sapa

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Johannesburg - The World Health Organisation’s warning that using cellphones could increase the risk of brain cancer needs to be carefully watched by employers, Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA) said on Wednesday.

"Although there is more research to be done, the fact is that under South African legislation employers have a responsibility to protect employees. This warning could have significant implications if an employee develops glioma, a malignant form of brain disease," OCSA's medical director Terry Berelowitz said.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), there are 5 billion cellphone subscriptions around the world. The number of phones and the average time spent using them have both climbed steadily in recent years.

"Considering many of these subscribers will be part of the working population, this new warning raises broad-reaching occupational safety issues which will require employers to apply their minds with the assistance of occupational medicine experts," Berelowitz said.

He said OCSA believed employers would have to inform, educate and screen any employees issued with cellphones for company use by means of questionnaires.

French news agency AFP reported that according to the WHO, cellphone users may be at increased risk from brain cancer and should use sms-ing and hands free devices to reduce exposure.

Radio-frequency electromagnetic fields generated by such devices are "possibly carcinogenic to humans," IARC announced at the end of an eight-day meeting in Lyon, France, on Tuesday.

Jonathan Samet, president of the work group, said experts "reached this classification based on review of the human evidence coming from epidemiological studies" pointing to an increased incidence of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer.

The IARC cautioned that current scientific evidence shows only a possible link, not a proven one, between wireless devices and cancers. 

cancer  |  cellphones
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