Throughout the day we are constantly surrounded by electronic devices that produces Electromagnetic Field’s (EMF’s). Nonetheless, the vast majority of these EMF’s are within safe levels. EMF’s are created when a piece of electrical or electronic equipment is used right from a toaster all the way to a satellite dish therefore EMF’s are most likely going to be present in most modern workplaces. Although there is no current evidence to state that EMF’s do cause long term health consequences, they do cause short term effects, such as vertigo, nausea and heating up of body tissues which can in theory lead to more serious effects. EMF’s affect the human body at different frequencies however it is not just sensory issues that they can cause. Indirect effects of EMF’s can come from objects present in the EMF that may become a hazard due to it being attracted to the magnets in the EMF and this could hit workers. There are workers that are at particular risk of EMF’s which include pregnant workers, workers that wear medical devices or have implanted medical devices and workers that have artificial joints or body piercings.
The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at work regulations 2016 (CEMFAW) have been introduced to provide additional controls for devices that do pose a significantly higher risk of EMF’s to workers. Most current workplaces will require no further action, yet where higher risk equipment is being used, these regulations ensure that employers do take further action to reduce the exposure of employees to electromagnetic fields.
Employers must assess the potential levels of EMF’s workers could potentially be exposed to. Under the regulations this should be actioned in the form of a risk assessment and the implementation of suitable controls such as health surveillance. The risk assessment must include consideration of the Action Levels (AL) and Exposure Limit Values (ELV), sources of exposure, workers at particular risk, the frequencies of the EMF’s, any indirect effects and any other health and safety related information. EMF’s risks are generally already well understood but the new regulations make it a specific requirement that employers access the levels of EMF’s workers may be exposed to.
Assessing the levels of EMF’s can seem like a daunting task, however there are ways to make it less intimidating. Draft guidance that is published by the HSE which includes a list of low exposure equipment that whereby business’s that only use these items, no further action is required unless there are employees at particular risk. Additionally, the guidance also contains a list of equipment and activities that may pose more of a significant risk from EMF’s. Alongside this other sources of information could be reports of ill health by employees, manufacturer information and industry standards or guidelines. If there is reason to suspect the current exposure assessment is no longer valid or there has been a significant change in the workplace in the matter to which EMF’s are related, then any necessary changes must be made to ensure it remains suitable.
Ultimately there is numerous amounts of EMF sources in the workplace, however it is highly likely that most of them will produce such low levels of EMF that other than assessing the exposure, the procedures already in place to manage risks will be sufficient to ensure workers are protected and to meet the requirements of the CEMFAW Regulations.
Written by Alice Fennell