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Electromagnetic Work Regulations explained

26 June 2017

Paul Taylor explains what is required to ensure compliance with the recently introduced Electromagnetic Work regulations.

The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016 No. 588 came into force across Europe in July 2016 to implement the EU Physical Agents Directive (EMF) 2013/35/EU. It forms one of a series of Physical Agents Directives for vibration, acoustic noise and optical radiation that are concerned with workplace safety and covers the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from electromagnetic fields. 

The European Commission has published a set of ‘non-binding guides to good practice for implementing Directive 2013/35/EU’ comprising; Volume 1: Practical Guide; Volume 2: Case Studies; Volume 3: Guide for SMEs. In addition, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK has produced a guide: ‘A guide to the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016’.

The Physical Agents Directive (EMF) identifies the need for competent services or persons to undertake a workplace assessment where potentially hazardous EMF sources are present. While the exact definition of a ‘competent service or person’ is not currently regulated, the 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, this means that suitable people should be appointed with defined responsibilities for EMF safety. Their role can be 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 report and records for employer/operator.
• Ensure safety controls are 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, advise on medical examination.

A risk assessment of EMF hazards in the workplace can, therefore, be made in five steps, using the HSE general guide to risk assessment. These are:

1.Identify the hazards. 
2.Decide who might be harmed and how. 
3.Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.
4.Record your findings and implement them.
5.Review your assessment and update if necessary.

As a starting point to identify EMF hazards, both the non-binding practical guide to the Physical Agents Directive (EMF) 2013/35/EU and the guide to the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016, describe an approach to identifying hazards by using an initial assessment that contains lists of equipment that are not an EMF hazard and those that might be. 

An important consideration is whether the workplace has workers at particular risk, who are those with medical devices (cardiac pacemakers, for example) or who are pregnant. If such workers are present, their exposure must be assessed on a case by case basis and typically requires assessment to the lower general public levels of EMF exposure.

Where equipment is identified as potentially producing an EMF hazard, a specific risk assessment is required to identify the severity of any exposure, the likelihood of exposure and resulting risk, taking account of any existing or new safety controls and safe operating procedures. Information may be available from the supplier or manufacturer on the type and levels of EMF, but in the absence of such information a detailed assessment by a competent person or service will be required to measure or calculate the EMF exposure levels. A procedure needs to be in place in case of accidental or suspected overexposure, including a process for medical examinations.

The Physical Agents Directive (EMF) includes safety controls in its Article 5 ‘Provisions Aimed at Avoiding or Reducing Risks’. This includes controls such as interlocks, shielding, barriers and signs, locking off access, selecting alternative equipment that emits less EMF and restructuring the layout of the workplace. 

It is clear that the EMF assessment process can be complex 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 to their employees.

Paul Taylor is manager for Machinery Safety at TÜV SÜD Product Service.

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