Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and radio frequencies (RFs) can be found almost everywhere and may cause harm to employees. The Control of EMF Regulations UK 2016 (CEMFAW) details how your organisation can protect employees from the risks of being exposed to EMFs and RFs.
EMF and RF awareness – what you need to know
Electromagnetic fields are areas of moving electrical energy.
They can be naturally produced, such as during thunderstorms, or derived from human-made technologies. Radio waves and x-rays count as technology examples. We are exposed to EMFs on a daily basis. For example, using a mobile phone or walking near power lines at a safe distance both expose you to human-produced produce EMFs.
The HSE states that EMFs are produced when electrical equipment is used. These EMFs can come from electrical equipment, ranging from TVs to mobiles to radio transmitters. EMFs range from static electric frequencies to electromagnetic radio waves that can reach up to 300GHz. Different electrical equipment can be classified under different frequency fields.
Radio frequencies refer to shifting electric currents moving through conductive materials.
At low levels EMFs and RFs do not harm humans or cause any adverse effects. However, at high levels and after prolonged exposure, they can cause harm to human tissue. This is why it is important to that both employers and employees follow guidance about working with EMFs and RFs.
A guide to the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations (2016)
The Health and Safety Executive’s guidance, A guide to the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016, describes what EMFs and RFs are and the effects they have on the body.
Our partner Link Microteck was involved in the consultation of this guide, which has resulted in a pragmatic solution and recognition of what was already being done to manage EMFs and RFs.
There is a strong message that while EMFs and RFs exist in a number of forms in various workplaces, most EMFs and RFs operate within safe levels and have no effects on the body.
The guide includes a table that contains a non-exhaustive list of low-exposure equipment which can be used by employers. However, any assessment should consider exposure from equipment not under the direct control of the employer. This includes cases where a employees visit other workplaces.
Why was The Control of EMF Regulations UK 2016 introduced?
The CEMFAW came into force on 1st July 2016 and is in line with what was already in place relating to good design and management control.
Employers in the telecommunication, media or broadcast industries and other organisations such as the health and emergency services, armed forces or the contracting supply chain that support these organisations already had management systems in place. With equipment such as radar and radio transmitters common in these industries, it has always been essential for them to comply with EMF regulations.
The CEMFAW introduced exposure limits and safety conditions that mean a broader spectrum of industries fall under the scope of the law. This includes manufacturing organisations that use high powered equipment which emits Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) or Radio Frequencies (RF), such as during plastic welding. Landlords and employers, for example, need to control maintenance or survey workers’ site visits where equipment emits EMF or RF from rooftop installations or when safety exclusion zones are accidentally entered.
How do EMF Regulations protect employees?
The CEMFAW regulations outline the minimum health and safety requirements that UK employers must follow to protect their employees from the risks posed by exposure to EMFs and RFs.
The Health and Safety Executive’s guidance helps employers:
- Identify where EMFs and RFs originate from in the workplace.
- Assess how much exposure there is.
- Decide what course of action is best if employees need protection.
- Control the risks posed by EMFs and RFs.
- Understand when exemptions to the CEMFAW rules are required (for example, in military matters).
These requirements are additions to the health and safety measures your organisation must follow according to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
What are an employer’s duties?
The EMF Regulations UK follow a structured format to protect the safety and wellbeing of employees who may be exposed to electromagnetic fields and radioactive frequencies in the workplace. These are the key elements:
- Assessment of Risk – Five Steps Approach. Employers are required to assess the levels of EMFs and RFs to which employees may be exposed in the workplace. This assessment typically involves a five-step approach, which includes identifying potential hazards, evaluating risks, and implementing control measures to mitigate these risks.
- Consultation and Participation of Employees. Employers must actively involve their employees in the assessment process. This includes consulting with employees and their representatives to gather input and feedback on the potential risks associated with EMFs and RFs. Employee participation is crucial for a comprehensive risk assessment.
- Determination of Exposure against Exposure Limit Values (ELVs) & Action Levels (Als): Employers need to ensure that exposure is below a set of ‘exposure limit values’ (ELVs) and they comply with Action Levels (ALs) set out in the regulations. ELVs represent the maximum allowable levels of exposure, while ALs trigger specific actions when reached.
- Hierarchy of Controls. Based on the findings from the risk assessment, employers should implement a hierarchy of controls. This hierarchy prioritises control measures, starting with elimination or substitution of the hazard, followed by engineering controls, administrative controls, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Focus on high-risk employees. Employers must assess the risks to expectant mothers, workers with medical devices on their person and other vulnerable employees (see ‘How can employers protect vulnerable workers?’ below)
- Employee Information and Training. Employers have a responsibility to provide their employees with information and training related to the risks associated with EMFs and RFs. This includes educating employees on safe work practices, the proper use of protective measures, and how to respond in case of emergencies.
- Health Surveillance. Employers may also need to establish health surveillance programs for employees who are at risk of significant exposure to electromagnetic fields. These programs can help monitor the health of exposed workers and detect adverse effects early.
There may be a bit of head-scratching about undertaking health surveillance as part of the risk assessment process. That’s because it’s accepted that it’s difficult to measure any long-term chronic health effects from EMF and RF exposure. In comparison, health assessments following any suspected acute exposure must, of course, form part of the employer’s risk management review process.
Finally, one area that needs close attention is the consultation and participation of employees in the risk assessment process and the requirement to provide workers with information and training.
How can employers protect vulnerable workers?
Focus must be on workers who are at particular risk, which includes those:
- Wearing active implanted medical devices, such as a pacemaker.
- With passive implanted medical devices, such as artificial joints, metallic plates, pins, or shrapnel.
- With medical devices worn on the body, such as hormone infusion pumps.
- Who are pregnant.
Employees in these categories may be at greater risk from EMF and RF than the general working population and should, therefore, be subject to a specific risk assessment. In considering whether workers may be at particular risk, employers should keep in mind the frequency, level, and duration of exposure to EMFs and RFs.
Employers need to find out if they have at-risk workers in their population, which means that training, awareness, communication, and information gathering will be an essential element of a risk management approach.
Is there EMF training available?
At Praxis42, we offer an EMF and RF Awareness training course that is developed by trained professionals in EMF and RF. Our training is IOSH approved and compliant with the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016.
Some of the benefits of EMF training include:
- Increasing employee awareness about the risks of EMF and RF exposure.
- Ensuring your organisation is compliant with the current UK EMF regulations.
- Enables your organisation to approach EMF and RF hazards appropriately.
Compliance with EMF regulations is essential to ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees who work in environments where they may be exposed to electromagnetic fields and radio frequencies.
Employers must actively assess and manage risks, involve their workforce in the process, and provide necessary EMF training and protective measures to maintain a safe working environment.