Assessing Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields

22 Nov 2017

With The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work (CEMFAW) Regulations (UK) 2016 coming into force, RPS has received numerous enquiries for assessment, measurement and management of electromagnetic fields (EMF) sources at industrial sites. The diverse sources of EMF within the workplace and lack of in house capabilities to adequately assess them against the current regulations are providing RPS with numerous opportunities to provide the service.

The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations (CEMFAW) 2016 are based on the EU Directive 2013/35/EU and are specifically set out to cover exposure to workers of electric and magnetic fields up to 300 GHz in frequency. All companies are now required to undertake an assessment of risk from exposure to EMF to ensure operatives are not exposed to field strengths that will cause sensory effects or tissue heating.

Exposure to EMF is not a new phenomenon. However, environmental exposure to man-made EMF has been steadily increasing as growing electricity demand, ever-advancing technologies and changes in social behaviour have created more and more artificial sources. Everyone is exposed to a complex mix of weak electric and magnetic fields, both at home and at work, from the generation and transmission of electricity, domestic appliances and industrial equipment, to telecommunications and broadcasting.

EMFs are a type of non-ionising radiation that is created whenever electrical energy is used. Various sources of EMF are regularly produced at very low levels. However sources in the workplace can produce much higher EMFs that can be damaging to health.

How EMFs affect the human body will depend on the frequency and intensity of the field, which is why measurement includes both frequency and magnitude. Some EMFs will cause direct effects on the organs and nerves in the body and may give rise to vertigo and nausea, whilst others cause heating of tissues. Indirect effects from exposure may include interference with active implanted medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers or defibrillators. They may also indirectly affect passive implants such as artificial joints, pins or wires and pose a risk to expectant mothers.

The main thrust of the directive is the need for risk assessment to determine if an employee is exposed above a set of Action Levels (ALs) or Exposure Limit Values (ELVs).

  • A risk assessment should be based on the following steps:
  • Identification of all EMF sources and where employees work in respect to these sources. Identify who are the workers at particular risk and what they are exposed to.
  • Cross reference all sources against EU guidance to establish which EMF sources require further assessment.
  • For those sources requiring further assessment consult available information to evaluate risk.
  • Where insufficient information is available direct measurement of EMF should be undertaken.

Examples of industry and equipment that may exceed ALs and ELVs include:

Infrastructure – broadcast base stations, microwave or radio frequency energized lighting equipment, radio and TV broadcasting equipment.
Electrical Supply – electrical circuits including cables, switchgear and transformers where cables are carrying currents greater than 100A.
Light Industry – resistance welding, manual spot and seam welding, dielectric heating and welding, induction heating and soldering, crack detection, magnetisers and demagnetisers, microwave heating and drying, RF plasma devices and battery charging stations.
Heavy Industry – furnaces, arc melting and electrolysis.
Transport – radar, air traffic control, trains and trams.

The RPS Occupational Hygiene team has developed capability and competency in all areas of risk assessment and measurement of EMF to assist with compliance to CEMFAW 2016 and the ALs established.

RPS can assess EMF exposure and compare it against the exposure limit criteria presented in CEMFAW 2016 for both occupational and general public exposure. To ensure compliance with CEMFAW 2016 RPS can provide any of the following:

  • Initial risk assessment and auditing to identify at risk equipment and at risk personnel.
  • Measurement survey of EMF and evaluation to Action Levels and Exposure Limit Criteria with advice to mitigate exposure including exclusion zoning.
  • EMF action plans and policy preparation.

The provision of any of the above services will enable clients to understand the issues clearly and accurately assess the risks from radiation exposure to electrical equipment and the steps required to achieve compliance with CEMFAW 2016, thus safeguarding their employees.

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