Landowners with telecommunications masts on their property should request information on radiation exclusion zones before the network is upgraded to carry 5G signals.
The warning came from Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) secretary and adviser Jeremy Moody.
Mr Moody said that significant levels of exposure to the radio waves emitted by base stations on telecoms masts can affect people’s health.The risks mean each mast must have an exclusion zone to protect people.
“With the rollout of 5G, these exclusion zones will be expanded significantly as the range of potentially dangerous radio waves is far greater than for 4G,” he explained.
Exclusion zones are typically governed by the mast’s direction, power usage and the height of the antennae.
Regulations for zones are set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP). But mast operators are only required to self-certificate compliance when they make a planning application, said Mr Moody.
The guidelines state that exclusion zones for workers and the public should be mapped by the operator. However, there is no requirement for operators to notify owners, site neighbours or the public of these areas.
“Usually, that means that nobody but the operator knows the areas in which people might be at risk and so cannot manage liabilities,” said Mr Moody.
When applying for planning permission for a larger mast, operators are only required to confirm the mast will comply with ICNIRP guidelines.
Even this declaration is not required where the mast is within permitted development rights.
Similarly, where a mast is upgraded from 4G to 5G, the operator does not have to make this declaration or even highlight the increased size of exclusion zones.
For landowners, this means there can be unforeseen issues with buildings, which could be within the exclusion zone unbeknown to the site owner, potentially putting workers or visitors at risk.
As well as any risk to human health, an exclusion zone can limit the construction of new buildings – both on the owner’s land and on neighbouring sites.
Existing buildings can also be rendered redundant if a zone is extended when the signal is upgraded.
“Providing a safe working environment for employees is a legal requirement of any employer, so any landowner with employees needs to take account of potential hazards.
“Landowners must obtain full ICNIRP drawings and site-specific radio frequency plans and ask for information on any upgrades to the mast, such as from 4G to 5G,” advised Mr Moody.
Many older agreements passed responsibilities to the landowner, often without their knowledge, so it’s vital if negotiating a new agreement that landowners are aware of the issues.
Terms should hold the operator fully liable for losses and claims arising from the mast, he added.
Additionally, site owners may wish to stipulate contractual terms restricting the expansion of exclusion zones, require the site to be switched off for the landowner or others to carry out work within the exclusion zone and make operators liable for any necessary staff training, Mr Moody suggested.
For more information, you can download the ICNIRP guidelines (PDF).