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May 19, 2015

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Minimising worker exposure to electromagnetic fields

By Neil Dyson

How to deal with the health risks posed by electromagnetic fields generated by equipment and machinery is an issue that many find complex. The Physical Agents Directive EMF 2013/35/EU was introduced on 26 June 2013 and covers the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from electromagnetic fields.

The EMF Directive forms one of a series of Physical Agents Directives for vibration, acoustic noise and optical radiation that are concerned with workplace safety and the impact of workplace activities on the general public.

Related European EMF Directives include:

  • Workplace – Physical Agents Directive (Electromagnetic Fields) 2013/35/EU
  • General Public – EU Council Recommendation 1999/519/EC of 12 July 1999 on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0Hz to 300GHz)
  • Products – EU Directives include essential health and safety requirements for radiation control for electrical products leading to CE Marking:
  • Radio & Telecommunication Terminal Directive 1999/5/EC
  • Low Voltage Directive 2006/95/EC
  • Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC

Competent person

The Physical Agents Directive (EMF) identifies the need for competent services or persons to undertake a workplace assessment. While they and other workers will require training to appropriate levels of competence, the exact definition of a competent service or person is not currently regulated. However, the Health & Safety Executive (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 persons should be appointed with defined responsibilities for EMF safety, with 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, 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 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.

Hazard identification

As a starting point to identify EMF hazards, the standard EN 50499 ‘Procedure for the Assessment of the Exposure of Workers to Electromagnetic Fields’, describes 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.

Equipment is deemed to comply without further assessment if it is for example, CE Marked electrical/electronic equipment that meets harmonised standards for EMF or equipment that already meets general public exposure levels. Examples of equipment likely to require further assessment includes electricity supply networks, industrial electrolysis, electric welding, induction and dielectric heating, industrial magnetiser/demagnetisers, diathermy & medical equipment, communications and radar antennas.

Where equipment is identified as producing an EMF hazard, a detailed assessment will be required to identify any safety controls together with safety operating procedures and procedures to be adopted 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 zoning, barriers and signs, beam elevation, locking off access, selecting alternative equipment that emits less EMF, and restructuring the layout of the workplace.

Occupational only controls include introducing alternative working methods to reduce exposure, the use of interlocks and shielding on equipment, limiting exposure by reducing the power or turning equipment off, and the use of personal protective equipment.

EN 50499 also uses a zoning scheme to categorise the workplace:

  • Zone 0 workplace is one in which the exposure levels are in accordance with general public exposure levels.
  • Zone 1 workplace exposures may be greater than general public exposure levels but will be compliant with occupational exposure levels.
  • Zone 2 exposures may be greater than the occupational exposure levels. If access is required to Zone 2, then remedial measures to reduce exposure or to restrict or limit access should be taken. This may require special authorisation and temporary controls to reduce exposure (e.g. Permit to Work).

While European Union Member States have until 1 July 2016 to transpose the Physical Agents Directive (EMF) into national law and implement the legislation, it is clear that the 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 and meets the new Physical Agents Directive (EMF).

Neil Dyson, Business Line Manager - Machinery, TUV SUD Product Service smallNeil Dyson, Business Line Manager for Machinery Safety at TÜV SÜD Product Service, a global product testing, inspection and certification organisation.






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