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Minimising your workers' exposure to electromagnetic fields

10 August 2014

The European Union Physical Agents Directive EMF 2013/35/EU was introduced on 26 June 2013 and European Union Member States now have until 1 July 2016 to transpose it into national law and implement the legislation. Paul Laidler reports.

An EMC testing laboratory operated by TÜV SÜD

The Physical Agents Directive EMF 2013/35/EU, or PAD(EMF),covers the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from EMF. A worker is defined as any person employed by an employer, including trainees and apprentices but excluding domestic servants.

The PAD(EMF) forms one of a series of Physical Agents Directives for vibration, acoustic noise and optical radiation under Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers in all EU Member States.

The European Union does not specifically legislate for general public exposure as public health and safety remains the remit of individual Member States, it has therefore made a 'Council Recommendation' 1999/519/EC. 

Machinery and electrical products marketed in the European Union have to meet relevant CE marking Directives and harmonised product standards that include health and safety requirements incorporating EMF, these product Directives include the Radio & Telecommunication Terminal Directive 1999/5/EC, the Low Voltage Directive 2006/95/EC and the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC.

Employer obligations
The PAD(EMF) imposes certain obligations on employers to implement Health & Safety management relevant to EMF safety. An EMF safety policy is recommended, but the level of detail required will depend upon the nature of equipment involved and the activities undertaken by the employer; for example, manufacture, testing, operation, maintenance and so on. 

Suitable persons should be appointed with defined responsibilities for EMF safety, and competent persons or services are required to perform the risk assessment, which must be repeated periodically. 

Where equipment is identified as producing an EMF hazard, a detailed assessment will be required with action plan for any EMF controls, PPE and safety operating procedures, together with the procedures to be adopted in case of accidental or suspected over-exposure. In such cases, a process for medical examinations is also required.

Competent Person
The exact definition of a competent service or person is not currently regulated. However, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) definition is: “Someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help you need.” For EMF, their role is summarised as follows:

-Receive relevant training on the EMF sources, measurement and calculation procedures.
-Have access to current EMF Directive, guidance and standards.
-Liaise with employer/operator to understand specific hazards for the site.
-Perform periodic risk assessment, calculation and measurement using appropriate test equipment.
-Produce reports and records for employer/operator.
-Ensure safety controls identified and applied correctly.
-Consult with other workers.
-Provide training in safe operation/maintenance of EMF sources where necessary for workers/visitors.
-Assist with EMF exposure incident investigation andadvise on medical examination.

Making an assessment
Prior to legislation being introduced, a series of ‘practical guides’ to compliance will be issued by the European Commission, but these are unlikely to be available until approximately six months before the legislation must be adhered to. 

The workplace must be initially assessed to identify equipment that can potentially produce an EMF hazard by reference to the Practical Guides, standards, guidelines, databases and manufacturer’s data. As a starting point to identify EMF hazards, the standard EN 50499 ‘Procedure for the Assessment of the Exposure of Workers to Electromagnetic Fields’, describes an approach by using an initial assessment that contains lists of equipment that are not an EMF hazard and those that might be. 

Equipment is deemed to comply without further assessment if, for example, it is electrical/electronic equipment carrying CE marking that meets harmonised standards for EMF, or equipment that already meets general public exposure levels. 

Examples of equipment likely to require further assessment are high current electricity networks, electrically driven transport, industrial electrolysis, electric welding and smelting, induction and dielectric heating, industrial magnetiser/demagnetisers, crack detection, RF vacuum deposition and sputtering, microwave heating and drying, medical diathermy and intentional radiators, communications antennas and radars.

Where equipment is identified as producing an EMF hazard, a detailed assessment will be required to identify any safety controls, together with safety operating procedures and procedures to be adopted in case of accidental or suspected over-exposure, including a process for medical examinations. The detailed assessment takes account of:

-EMF frequency, level, duration, type of exposure, distribution over body and over volume of workplace, uncertainties
-Multiple sources and multiple frequencies of EMF
-Direct and indirect effects (for example, medical devices, projectiles, electro explosive devices, flammable materials, shock/burn contact currents)
-Effects on workers at particular risk (for example, those with body-worn medical devices or in pregnancy)

Action plan and safety controls
EMF safety controls are necessary where exposure can exceed the permitted levels. The types of control can be technical or organisational (procedural). In a workplace with controlled access, EMF controls should be as reliable as possible, but can rely in part on knowledge and training. However, for untrained worker access and hazards to the general public, the controls must prevent hazardous exposure by definite 'positive' means (substantial barrier, locked access and so on).

The PAD(EMF) includes safety controls in its Article 5 “Provisions Aimed at Avoiding or Reducing Risks”. This includes controls such as zoning, barriers and signs, beam elevation, locking off access, selecting alternative equipment that emits less EMF, and restructuring the layout of the workplace. 

Workplace controls include introducing alternative working methods to reduce exposure, the use of interlocks and shielding on equipment, limiting exposure by reducing the power or turning equipment off, and the use of personal protective equipment. 

EN 50499 uses a Zoning scheme to categorise the workplace. A Zone 0 workplace is one in which the exposure levels are in accordance with general public exposure levels. Zone 1 workplace exposures may be greater than general public exposure levels but will be compliant with occupational exposure levels.

Zone 2 exposures may be greater than the occupational exposure levels. If access is required to Zone 2, then remedial measures to reduce exposure or to restrict or limit access should be taken. This may require special authorisation and temporary controls to reduce exposure - a Permit to Work, for example.

How to deal with the health risks posed by electromagnetic fields generated by equipment and machinery is an issue that many find complex. It is also clear that the assessment process can be complicated and, once completed, may result in significant changes to the workplace environment.

Organisations should therefore take action now to implement a process that will ensure that the equipment they use poses no risk and meets the new Physical Agents Directive (EMF) from July 2016.

Paul Laidler is business director, Machinery Safety, TÜV SÜD Product Service


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