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HSE responds to Safety & Health Practitioner - "Wave theory"

21 July 2010

Dear Editor,

Re: "Wave theory", SHP 9 June 2010

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) would like to clarify some of the points raised in this article, explaining the state of play with the electromagnetic fields (EMF) Directive, and what employers and safety professionals should be considering.

It is unlikely that the EMF Directive will come into force in the UK in its current form by 2012. An amended proposal will be considered over the next two years and, if agreed, the Government will need to decide how best to implement it. HSE has made it clear to the Commission that it wants an EMF Directive that takes a balanced approach to EMF safety and avoids unnecessary costs while ensuring worker protection and we expect 2014 to be the earliest date for any implementation. What is likely to remain the same is that the proposal will focus on the short term effects of EMFs - it is not meant to deal with concerns about suggested long term consequences.

In the meantime employers and safety professionals should continue to take a sensible, proportionate approach to ensure EMFs are prioritised appropriately alongside other workplace hazards. The simple fact is that, for the vast majority of premises and processes, EMFs are not an issue at all.

A small number of activities do generate high potential exposures and can cause harm - such as resistance welding, induction or RF (dielectric) heating, broadcasting/telecommunications transmitters or where EMFs are used in some medical procedures. In these cases employers will need to ensure that workers are not at risk of harm and provide a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.  If workplaces don't have any equipment that is capable of emitting high levels of EMFs then employers don't need to take any substantial action.

Risk assessments can be put together using information provided by equipment manufacturers or by using international guidance and standards, e.g. 'Procedure for the assessment of the exposure of workers to electromagnetic fields' BS EN 50499. Taking measurements is not an essential part of the risk assessment, nor is taking account EMFs in the wider environment, for example from mobile phone masts. Environmental EMF exposures have been shown to be a long way below the international public exposure guidelines, which are more restrictive than workplace guidelines and can be ignored, unless staff need to work on rooftops very close to the EMF sources, e.g. antennae. 

If you are unsure about the assessment of EMF risk in your workplace, you should contact your local HSE office.

Yours faithfully,

Arwel Barrett
HM Principal Inspector
HSE Radiation Team

Updated 2012-01-13