Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work
In July 2016, the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations came into force. As an employer, you have a duty of care to your workplace and employees, and ensure that their occupational health is maximised. This includes considering any risks from exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
What is an EMF?
EMFs are present in the majority of workplaces. They’re produced whenever a piece of electrical or electronic equipment (e.g. computer, mobile phone, etc.) is used. If EMF levels are of high enough intensity, you may need to take action to ensure that your workers are protected from the adverse effects they bring.
What do the regulations state?
The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations state that you must assess the levels of EMFs to which your employees may be exposed in the workplace. These should be below a set of exposure limit values (ELVs).
When appropriate, you should assess the risks of employees’ exposure, provide information and training on the actions being taken and implement the removal or control of those risks. All information must be made available to your safety representatives.
Exposure limit values and action levels
The requirements for the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations are based on two sets of values related to EMFs: ALs and ELVs. ELVs are the legal limitations on the exposure of employees to EMFs and primarily relate to the levels of exposure to EMFs within the body. These are often impossible or difficult and expensive to measure directly. For this reason, a separate set of values, known as action levels (ALs), has been produced relating to quantities which can be measured more easily. You can find out more about these in HSG281; the Health and Safety Executive’s guide to the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016.
Is health surveillance necessary?
The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations only relate to short-term effects resulting from exposure to EMFs. While it is possible to incur health effects, there is no well-established scientific evidence of long-term effects. Therefore, health surveillance is only likely to be needed in very limited circumstances.
Where an employee is exposed to EMFs in excess of the exposure limit values, and they report experiencing a health effect, you must make sure that health surveillance and medical examinations are provided as appropriate. In addition to this, you will also reduce the likelihood of absenteeism at a later date.
What do I need to do as an employer?
You’ll need to assess exposure to EMFs in your workplace and these will vary dependent on the working environment. You can find a list of equipment that emits EMFs in HSG281.
Since many sources of EMF in the workplace produce such low levels, it’s likely that the procedures you already have in place to manage risks will be enough to make sure workers are protected. This means that you’ll meet the requirements for the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations and won’t need to take any further action. There are some exceptions. If you have five or more employees, you will need to make a record of your findings. There are also some circumstances where employees will be at particular risk. If this is the case in your organisation, you will need to give special consideration.
Employees at particular risk
Even if you are in compliance with the exposure limits, in some circumstances an employee could be regarded as being at particular risk. Certain aspects of an individual’s medical history might be a contributing factor to how susceptible they are to potential EMF exposure risks.
This includes expectant mothers who have informed you of their condition. HSG281 contains a list of sources of EMFs which may pose specific risks to expectant mothers. You will need to consider these in addition to the information contained on sources of EMF which may exceed the ELVs and/or ALs.
Workers who have declared the use of active implanted medical devices (AIMDs), passive implanted medical devices (PIMDs) or body-worn medical devices (BWMDs) are also at risk. For example:
- Cochlear implants
- Orthopaedic implants or joints
- Pins, plates, and screws
- IU contraceptive devices
- Clips used for female sterilisation
- Hearing aids
- Metallised drug-delivery patches (over the counter or prescription)
It also includes employees who work in close proximity to electro-explosive devices, explosive materials or flammable atmospheres.
What are the health risks and effects?
Depending on the field and frequency, the following health effects could be experienced;
- Metallic taste in mouth
- Flickering sensation in peripheral vision
- Nerve stimulation
- Effects on the central and peripheral nervous system of the body
- Muscle contraction
- Heart arrhythmia
- Auditory effects, such as perception of clicks or buzzing caused by pulsed radar systems
- Thermal stress
- Heating effects, leading to a rise in core body temperature
- Localised limb heating (e.g. knees or ankles)
- Contact with charged conducting bodies can lead to RF shock or deep tissue burns
If you’d like to find out more about assessing the EMF levels in your workplace, get in touch with one of our team.