New Health & Safety Regulations for Electromagnetic Fields

Mark Owen – Health & Safety Expert

June 20 2016

On July 1st, the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016 will come into force in line with the European Directive 2013/35/EU. However, because controls in general terms are already in place through the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and other UK legislation, there’s been little publicity surrounding this new law. So what does this mean for your business? Essentially, the new regulations merely enhance the existing protections that already exist for people exposed to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) at work. EMFs are generated whenever electrical energy is used. They’re almost ubiquitous, arising in our homes from things like:

  • Kitchen appliances
  • TV sets
  • Radios
  • Phone chargers

At work, they’re created by everyday electrical equipment along with work processes such as:

  • Radiofrequency heating
  • Radiofrequency drying

On a broader scale, they’re generated by radio, TV and telecoms broadcasting masts, and security detection devices. The impact of EMFs For a long time it’s been known that the exposure of high levels of EMFs can give rise to acute effects on people – these vary depending on the frequency of the radiation. At low frequencies the effects will be on the central nervous system of the body: at high frequencies heating effects can occur, leading to a rise in body temperature. However, these effects are extremely rare and will not occur in most day-to-day work situations, and the Health & Safety Executive has published information and advice on controlling the risks from excessive exposure in specific industries for the last 30 years or so. What’s changed with the new regulations? The imminent regulations have introduced some new specific responsibilities - previously general responsibilities - on duty holders. Most notably is a requirement to assess the levels of EMFs to which their workers may be exposed to, against a set of specific thresholds. Specifically these new regulations require employers to:

  • Assess the levels of EMFs to which employees may be exposed
  • Ensure that exposure is below the Exposure Limit Values
  • Where risks to employees are assessed, eliminate or minimise those risks. Ensure that the risks to any workers at particular risk are taken into account – particularly expectant mothers and workers with active or passive implanted or body worn medical devices
  • When appropriate, devise and implement an action plan to ensure compliance with the exposure limits
  • Provide information and training on the particular risks to employees and safety representatives from EMFs in the workplace, along with details of action being taken to remove or control them
  • Take action if employees are exposed to EMFs in excess of the Action Level or the Exposure Limit Values
  • Provide health surveillance as appropriate

Most domestic and low-powered equipment produce levels of EMF below both the Action Value and the Exposure Limit Values. Official guidance, summarised here, indicates where specific risk assessment will and will not be required:

Equipment Risk Assessment required?
Workers at normal risk Workers at particular risk Workers with active implants
Mobile and cordless phone use N N Y
Mobile and cordless phones - background N N N
Use of WLAN, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth N N Y
WLAN, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - background N N N
AV equipment – TV, DVD player etc. N N N
AV equipment – TV, DVD player etc. with RF transmitters N N Y
Computers, IT equipment and wired networks N N N
Fans and fan heaters N N N
Copiers, shredders, staplers and similar office equipment N N N
Fax machines and landlines N N N
Alarm systems N N N
Base stations and antenna, outside operator’s exclusion zone N N N
Household appliances including room heaters N N N
Lighting equipment (except any RF or microwave energised) N N N
Security surveillance and metal detectors N N Y
Data erasers, tape or hard drive N N Y
Electrical circuits with a net current of 100A or less N N N
Arc welding N N Y
Corona surface treatment units N N Y
Heat guns, glue guns N N Y
Hand held tools N N Y
Machine tools N N Y
Electrical circuits with a net current of 100A or more Y Y Y
Dielectric heating and welding Y Y Y
Induction heating and soldering Y Y Y
Magnetic crack detection, magnetisers and demagnetisers Y Y Y
Microwave heating and drying Y Y Y
RF Plasma devices Y Y Y
Resistance welding Y Y Y
Furnaces, induction and arc Y Y Y
Electrolysis Y Y Y
Radar Electric trains and trams Y Y Y
Broadcasting (all frequencies) Y Y Y

Exposure Limits and Action Values are not straightforward single values – they’re based on the thermal effects of exposure and also the non-thermal effects and the frequency (in hertz) of the electric field. Action levels are set to guarantee protection from both the sensory effects and health effects of exposure. In most cases where there’s uncertainty, specialist guidance will be required. For further information on these new regulations, please call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2785 and one of our advisers will be happy to help.    

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