SAR or Specific Absorption Rate value is the rate at which energy is absorbed by the body when exposed to a radio frequency or electromagnetic field. SAR is commonly used to measure power absorbed by a mobile phone. There are maximum controls worldwide for a SAR value to be at or below 1.6 – 2 watts per kilogram. The SAR value is the measure of the amount of energy absorbed by the body by mobile phones and other devices; the lower the SAR value the safer the phone. Even though there are standards in place, a cheaper phone may be sold with a higher SAR value which may pose a risk to health. Mobile phones have been classified as a ‘Group 2B’ i.e possibly carcinogenic, but since mobile phones have only been around the last 20 years or so the effects of mobile phones on human health is inconclusive.
Another aspect of mobile phone safety is their use while driving. Recent findings from the American Automobile Association (AAA) report that even with hands free technology, the driver is still impaired. Experiments were done with drivers who talked on a cell phone (both handheld and hands-free), or listened and responded to voice activated email features. The result of the research was that the speech-to-text system was the most distracting for drivers. Voice activated features made drivers experience a kind of “tunnel vision where they didn’t see potential hazards in front of them”. However, the study didn’t compare the visual and manual aspects of hand-held versus hands-free systems. The study only focused on the cognitive aspect of using a device, so more research has to be done on comparing the hand-held with the hands free systems.
In 2011, the mobile phone “Expert XP-Ex-1” had to be taken off the market because, in potentially explosive atmospheres, it could lead to possible ignition danger. It had to be taken off the market because it didn’t comply with safety standards. In general, radio transmission from mobile phones is generally too low to induce dangerous electric currents in nearby equipment. However, they should not be used in hazardous areas containing petrol.
Display Screen Equipment of another kind ie laptops, can pose a health risk. Computer workstations can be associated with eyestrain, neck back and arm problems. Whilst most of these afflictions are not serious to health, they should be avoided. The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 are there to protect the health of people who work with laptops and computer workstations. Basically, these regulations address adequate seating requirements, lighting, software used, work surface, break taking, eyesight tests, VDU screens, training and the environment. Where there is intensive use of display screen equipment by an employee, it is important that non-display screen work be part of the role. Breaks should be taken before the onset of fatigue, not to recuperate. Well designed workstations and environments make for a more productive and happy employee.
Moving away from laptops and phones, medical devices used in hospitals, health care environments and by patients themselves can pose a safety risk. It has been reported in the US that medical devices such as surgical and anesthesia devices and lab analysis tools could easily be hacked into by unauthorized individuals. Malware could be distributed that can prevent hospital equipment from working correctly. The FDA has said there is growing concerns surrounding this report. Hospitals and people are vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. Manufacturers must address cyber security so end users can protect this equipment. In a paedriatic care environment, it has been reported that some health gadgets are not as efficient as they should be when used. For children with complex conditions, medical devices have been a miracle, but for some there have been reports of problems in their use. The aim is to increase the monitoring of the usage of these medical devices and to mitigate for risk of any forseeable problems.
A gadget that is challenging the safety experts, is ‘Google Glass’. Google glass is a wearable computer with a head mounted display. It displays information like a smartphone hands free format. It can interact with the internet via voice commands. Google Glass presents its information on a virtual screen that seems to float a few feet away in the field of vision of the right eye. An Australian health and safety firm decided to test Google’s latest invention. The glasses were shown to be safe while driving as well as use in everyday life, despite privacy safety concerns. But there may be problems with eye coordination. If the wearer is focused on something else, the left eye may be seeing something different from the right eye. Because its just come on the market, there is no real research on how wearing this headset for days or months can affect the individual. The Australian safety experts doing the test run, said they never got so much attention in public and were “mobbed”. This Google project has drawn great media attention and wearing these glasses may well be the norm for many of us in the future.