The Health and Safety Executive are currently consulting on draft proposals for The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016.
The new Regulations are required following the adoption by the European Union of Directive 2013/35/EU on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields)
These requirements must be transposed and implemented by law across all Member States by 1 July 2016.
What are Electromagnetic Frequencies?
An EMF is a type of non-ionising radiation that is present in virtually all workplaces and is create whenever electrical energy is used.
The types of EMF effects on the body are described as; direct effects on the body and indirect effects caused by the EMF affecting other things in the environment that can create a safety or health hazard.
The mechanism for interaction between the external environmental field and a person changes according to the type of EMF. The type of effect that EMFs have on people depends primarily on the frequency and intensity: some fields cause stimulation of sensory organs, nerves and muscle, while others cause heating.
The effects caused by heating are termed ‘thermal effects’ while all other effects are termed ‘non-thermal’.
Extremely low frequency or pulsed EMFs can create the perception of a flickering effect in the peripheral vision, which are caused by the changing fields interacting with the retina. They are not harmful but may be irritating. The perception disappears when the EMF exposure has ceased.
Importantly, all these effects show a threshold below which there is no risk, and exposures below the threshold are not cumulative i.e. it does not get worse over time through additional exposures.
The established adverse effects of EMFs on the body are:
In addition, while living tissues are largely unaffected by static magnetic fields, movement in strong magnetic fields will induce (extremely low frequency) electric fields in the exposed person which can lead to a metallic taste, or feelings of vertigo or nausea. The latter effects could lead to safety issues, if the affected worker is in a situation where the adverse effects could increase the likelihood of an accident.
There is also risk of electric shock or a burn from touching ungrounded conducting objects in an electromagnetic field.
Not only may the EMFs interact directly with people, but also with objects, which may then present an indirect risk to people making contact with them or in the vicinity.
Potential indirect effects are:
At present, there are no specific regulations covering worker exposure to EMFs in UK domestic health and safety law.
EMF risks are managed through the general requirements in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR 1999), and supported by a Public Health England recommendation that the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines be followed.
The risks from EMF are generally already well understood and managed in the UK: Health and Safety Executive Inspectors do not come across many instances of workers at risk and there have been very few incidents or accidents reported in recent years as a direct result of exposure from EMF.
A Directive covering worker exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) was first adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers in 2004.
However, following adoption, the manufacturing sector and the medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) community (MRI is widely used in medical diagnostics) raised concerns that it contained disproportionate requirements and was overly burdensome. An extension to the transposition deadline to address these concerns was agreed and the 2004 Directive was not transposed into UK law.
Directive 2013/35/EU on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields) was adopted on 26 June 2013. It was published in the European Union (EU) Official Journal on 29 June 2013, and must be transposed and implemented (its requirements brought into law) across all Member States by 1 July 2016.
The EMF Directive lays down minimum requirements for the protection of workers from risks to their health and safety arising, or likely to arise, from exposure to EMF. It covers EMFs with frequencies up to 300 gigahertz (GHz). The Directive requires that dutyholders assess the levels of EMF to which their workers may be exposed against a set of specific thresholds. These are called Action Levels (ALs) and Exposure Limit Values (ELVs). Different frequency ranges have different ALs and ELVs.
Overall the Directive aims to ensure that:
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