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Non-Ionising radiation FAQs

Mobile phone masts/ base stations

What research has been undertaken into the health and safety of phone masts?

HSE’s policy on phone masts in particular, and radio wave safety in general, is guided by organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and the Health Protection Agency. It is important that we understand and monitor any potential public health impact from radio waves. A great deal of research has been, and continues to be undertaken. The weight of international evidence reviewed by these expert organisations indicates that there is no evidence of a direct link of harm or ill health from working or living close to phone masts.

In 2000 the UK Government commissioned the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) chaired by Professor Sir William Stewart, to conduct a review of the possible health effects from the use of mobile phones, base stations and transmitters. It concluded that:

“The balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of international guidelines.”

Research continues to be undertaken (Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research). More information can be found from Public Health England.

Do mobile phone masts comply with international guidelines?

Reflecting public concern, the Government advice is that all operators of mobile phone masts should comply with international guidelines to ensure that public health is not put at risk. These guidelines are precautionary; this means that they include a very large safety margin for limiting public exposure. Compliance with these guidelines is taken into account by the local planning authority when considering an application for a base station,

As a result of one of the recommendations in the Report of the IEGMP, Ofcom carries out audits of the emissions from mobile phone base stations. The measurements show that the levels of radio waves around base stations are consistently much lower than the safe levels recommended by the guidelines. This information can be found on the Ofcom website .

ICNIRP Guidelines

What is ICNIRP?

ICNIRP, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, is a charitable body of independent scientific experts established by the International Radiation Protection Association whose principal aim is to disseminate information and advice on the potential health hazard of exposure to non-ionising radiation including electromagnetic fields.

What are the ICNIRP guidelines?

ICNIRP has developed guidelines on exposures to EMFs. The guidelines are designed to provide protection against all known health effects from EMFs. These guidelines are the result of an extensive process of expert review of the scientific literature and consultation with other experts and professional bodies. In 1998 they issued guidelines on exposures levels for EMFs for the frequency range up to 300 GHz. An affirmation statement was made by ICNIRP in 2009 confirming that the radiofrequency guidelines issued in 1998 remained fit for purpose, pending a full review of the health risk assessment by the World Health Organisation, likely to be published in 2012. In 2009 ICNIRP revised its guidelines and advice on exposures to static magnetic fields and published a factsheet. In 2010 they issued new guidelines for the frequency range 1 Hz to 100 kHz together with an accompanying factsheet.

Mobile Phones

What advice does the Health and Safety Executive give on working safely with mobile phones?

Mobile phones are often used at work. They can have benefits for safety, efficiency and convenience of employers and staff. Employers have legal duties to protect the health and safety of their employees. In some areas, employers will prohibit the use of mobile phones to prevent the possibility of a spark being generated that might ignite flammable materials. This may also be to protect against the risk that some critical electronic control systems may experience interference and fail. The Health and Safety Executive advises employers that they should instruct staff not to use mobile phones while driving, or while doing anything else where concentration is important and their use might interfere with safety. Where employers require staff to use a mobile phone, and concerns about possible health impacts are raised, employers could respond by, for example

  • explaining that mobile phones operate within international guidelines
  • giving staff a copy of the Department of Health leaflet ‘Mobile Phones and Health’
  • discussing with concerned staff ways to reduce mobile phone use.

Sunbeds

Who regulates the use of sunbeds?

Your local Environmental Health Department are responsible for monitoring and inspecting sunbed salons everywhere except those situated in Local Authority Leisure Centres, which HSE will regulate.

Are there age restrictions for using a sunbed salon?

The Sunbed (Regulations) Act 2010 makes it illegal for under-18’s to use commercial tanning equipment in England and Wales. The Sunbeds Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 also prohibits the use sale or hire of commercial tanning equipment for under 18’s. Scotland has the Public Health etc (Scotland) Act 2008 (Sunbed) Regulations 2009, which only permits access to over 18’s. For more information contact the Department of Health.

How can I minimise risk to my customers who still want to use a sunbed?

The risk to the customer relates to the effective dose they receive, and this is a combination of the irradiance level of the tubes, the exposure time and the genetics of each customer. The manufacturers’ instructions will give details of suggested exposure times for different skin types, and also tell you about people who should be advised not to use a sunbed (skin types 1 and 2 for example). If the dose is well managed, risks should be equivalent to those arising from sunbathing and thus tolerable.

It should be noted that risk assessments to determine suggested exposure times are carried out on clean skin. It is good practice to ensure that customers be advised to remove all trace of cosmetics or deodorants before tanning, and avoid the use of accelerants.

To whom should I complain if I am unhappy with my local sunbed salon?

Your local Environmental Health Department are responsible for monitoring and inspecting sunbed salons everywhere except those situated in Local Authority Leisure Centres, which HSE will regulate.

Does HSE have any guidance that can help me?

HSE has a leaflet and accompanying poster aimed at offering guidance and support to sunbed salon operators and their customers. More information

Lasers

Do I need to register laser equipment?

No. There is no legal requirement to register laser equipment although, before using it, employers should carry out a risk assessment. This is a requirement under the general duties of the Management of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Are there any risks from the lasers used in office equipment such as printers?

There is no risk from the lasers that are found in some office equipment provided that equipment casings (housings and enclosures etc) remain undamaged. Many office devices contain 'embedded' laser systems that are of a higher class than that assigned to the device itself and so, it is important that only trained and authorised people carry out maintenance and repairs which involve gaining access to the lasers.

What about lasers used for presentation purposes?

The power of laser pointers used in presentation work is normally not greater than Class 2. When used as intended, these products will not present an eye injury risk. The simple precaution of ensuring that they are never deliberately stared at or shone into people's faces will be sufficient control for any viewing hazard that they present.

In the case of older Class 3A and new Class 1M and 2M laser pointers, it is additionally necessary to ensure that viewing aids, such as magnifying glasses and binoculars, are never used by persons who may be exposed to the laser pointer beam.

However, given that the use of such devices is normally under the control of a teacher, lecturer or presenter, these laser classes will be, in most circumstances of use, no more hazardous than Class 2. However, HSE is aware of higher power devices being offered for sale in this market (e.g. Class 3B). These should never be used by members of the public and should only be used by trained and competent employers and employees, who will ensure that a laser beam is not directed at people's eyes.

Is there any danger of check-out operators receiving burns from bar code scanners etc that use lasers?

No. These scanners are typically Class 1 laser products and people employed as check-out operators are at no risk from burns to their skin. However, scanning systems used in some warehouse applications (i.e. at premises to which there is no public access) could be up to the old Class 3A or up to Class 2M and should therefore only be used by trained personnel.

Do people who work with lasers have to:

a) have eye examinations at regular intervals?

No. Employers can if they wish conduct examinations for pre-employment purposes and they are, of course, a useful follow-up to accidents, but HSE doesn't recommend their use for routine health surveillance.

b) be provided with protective eye wear ?

This will depend upon the employer's risk assessment made under the Management of Health and Safety Regulations. As a general rule, HSE would expect protective eyewear to be worn by people who operate lasers of a Class greater than the old 3A or greater than 2M in situations where there is the possibility of personal access to the laser aperture (ie. open beam path equipment). If viewing aids are in common usage by workers or eye aversion responses are unreliable (i.e. a person's natural tendency to avert their gaze from bright lights), then eyewear may well be necessary for any laser that exceeds Class 1.

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun

Do I need to provide sun cream and sunglasses for staff who work outside?

There is no legal obligation for employers to provide suncream or sunglasses for outdoor workers. The information in HSE’s leaflets encourages employers of outdoor workers to include sun protection advice in routine health and safety training and advises workers to keep covered up during the summer months.

Using interactive whiteboards safely

What regulations do I need to consider?

The Artificial Optical Radiation (AOR) Regulations 2010 require you to protect the eyes and skin of your workers from exposure to hazardous sources of artificial optical radiation. AOR includes light emitted from all artificial sources in all its forms such as ultraviolet, infrared and laser beams, but excludes sunlight.

You can find more information on the Guidance for Employers on the Control of Artificial Optical Radiation at Work Regulations (AOR) 2010.

Do interactive whiteboards present a risk to health or safety?

Used appropriately and in accordance with manufacturers instructions interactive whiteboards do not present a risk to health or safety. However, if used inappropriately they have the potential to cause discomfort and possible damage to the eyes.

Non-binding guide to good practice for implementing Directive 2006/25/EC, produced by the European Commission, provides more detailed information.

How can I ensure that I use interactive whiteboards safely?

HSE considers the following advice to be good practice in respect of the use of these projectors by employers, particularly in the education sector.

  • Staring directly into the projector beam is avoided at all times.
  • Standing in the beam, whilst facing the projector, is minimised. Users, especially pupils and students, should try to keep their backs to the beam as much as possible. In this regard, the use of a stick or laser pointer to avoid the need for the user to enter the projector beam is recommended.
  • Pupils and students are adequately supervised when they are asked to point out something on the screen.

Employers should also try to ensure that projectors are located so that they are not in a presenter's line-of-sight when they stand in front of the screen to address an audience; this ensures that, when presenters look at the audience, they do not also have to stare directly at the projector lamp. To achieve this you could consider ceiling-mounting rather than floor or table-mounting the projector.

In bright rooms, it is recommended that instead of increasing the brightness of the projector in order to make the presentation visible, window blinds are used to reduce the ambient light in the room.

If you find it difficult to follow this advice, or you want to reduce risks further. You may wish to consider alternatives to standard interactive whiteboards. Recent technological developments in projector and interactive whiteboard design have allowed "ultra-short throw" devices to be brought to market. These employ sophisticated optics to enable the projector to be mounted above the display screen and so close to it that it becomes impossible for a user to directly expose their eyes to the beam.

Updated 2016-07-01