The Electromagnetic Field Regulations
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Electromagnetic Fields) Regulations 2016 were introduced in order to increase awareness and reduce the risk of exposure to electromagnetic fields in workplaces. In our consulting and legal compliance work, Antaris has identified this as an area which may require further explanation for some companies. This blog is designed to provide an overview of the hazards and the potential risks associated with electromagnetic fields (EMF).
Electromagnetic fields are the basis for many technologies delivering motive force or generating electricity. Motors and electricity generators use EMF technology. Welders, switch boards, switch gear, high voltage, high current applications such as transformers may be associated with strong enough electromagnetic fields to cause a significant effect in humans. Direct biophysical effects occur in the human body as a direct result of its presence in an electromagnetic field. They include thermal effects, such as tissue heating, and non-thermal effects like the stimulation of muscles, nerves or sensory organs. It includes indirect effects such as those that are caused by the presence of an object, for example cardiac pacemakers and other implants, in an electromagnetic field and which could become a safety or health hazard.
The Regulations set out exposure limit values, based on biophysical and biological considerations, to protect workers from adverse health and sensory effects. Action levels are also set to identify when relevant protection or prevention measures should be taken. Various obligations are imposed on employers. They must ensure that exposure of employees to electromagnetic fields remains within the limits set by the Regulations. If these are exceeded, they must take immediate preventive action. However, exemptions exist whereby levels may be exceeded under certain very strict conditions.
In general, employers must ensure that risks from electromagnetic fields at work are eliminated or reduced as much as possible. Regular risk and exposure assessments and use of practical guides can help to ensure this. Where risks to workers’ health are identified, employers must have an action plan of protection and preventive measures. This can include technical and/or organisational measures, especially for workers at particular risk. The legislation also requires health monitoring to prevent, or diagnose early on, any adverse health effects. If excessive exposure is detected employers must provide appropriate medical examinations or individual health monitoring in accordance with national law and practice.
In practice, most employers will have some potential exposures due to fixed electromagnetic fields installations on site, and some exposures due to periodic equipment use or maintenance. Typical equipment which has the capacity to cause effects in humans include:
- high voltage and current electrical installations (over 100 Amps)
- high powered magnets (such as those used for de-Gaussing electronic data storage media)
- manual resistance welding
- work on generators
- manual metal arc welding processes
- industrial battery chargers
- machine tools (for example pedestal drills, grinders, lathes, milling machines, saws)
- use of tools (electric handheld and transportable e.g. drills, sanders, circular saws, and angle grinders)
- work near construction equipment (e.g. concrete mixers, vibrators, cranes, etc)
- radios, two-way (for example walkie-talkies, vehicle radios)
The HSA has provided guidance on the level of risk for specific groups of employees. This is summarised in the following generic risk assessment form:
For additional references check the section Occupational Exposure on the Pegasus Legal Register where you will find Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Electromagnetic Fields) Regulations 2016.