Explained: CEFAW Regulations, which come into force today
The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016 (CEFAW) are due to come into force today (1 July 2016), subject to parliamentary approval. Jonathan Hughes, head of training and litigation at Capita Health and Safety looks at how these new regulations may impact UK businesses.
At a glance
Every day, we are surrounded by electronic devices that produce electromagnetic fields. The vast majority of these are well below safe levels, but this new law has been introduced to provide additional controls for those devices that pose a higher risk. For the majority of workplaces, no further action will be required. Where higher risk equipment is being used, these regulations will require employers to take further action to reduce the exposure to electromagnetic fields, in the form of a risk assessment and the implementation of suitable control measures. In anticipation of the regulation gaining parliamentary approval by the 1 July, the HSE have produced a guide – HSG281 – available to download from the HSE’s website.
On 29 June 2013, the EU issued the Electromagnetic Fields Directive and gave member states three years to implement it as law. This new law will almost certainly be enacted from the 1 July 2016. Up until now, the risk of electromagnetic fields (EMF) has been managed through existing legislation – mainly the Health and Safety at Work Act and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. Whilst existing legislation covers some requirements, the EMF Directive introduced new responsibilities for employers, most notably the requirement to assess the levels of EMF to which their workers may be exposed against a set of specific thresholds. The new CEFAW regulations deal with those responsibilities that go beyond the existing laws already in place.
What is an Electromagnetic Field (EMF)?
An EMF is produced whenever a piece of electrical or electronic equipment (i.e. TV, food mixer, computer, mobile phone etc.) is used. With the vast amount of technology around us today EMFs are ever-present, and if they are of high enough intensity employers may need to take action to ensure that workers are protected from any adverse effects.
What are the health effects of EMFs?
EMFs at different frequencies affect the human body in different ways, causing sensory and health effects. Indirect effects can also occur, for example where magnetic objects move uncontrolled towards a magnet, potentially hitting anyone or anything in its way. Indirect effects may also include interference with body worn or implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers and hearing aids. Sensory effects may include nausea, vertigo, a metallic taste in the mouth, flickering sensations in peripheral vision and auditory effects such as clicks and buzzes. Health effects can vary from tingling, thermal stress and even burns in extreme cases.
What does the law require?
The CEFAW regulations require employers to assess the levels of EMFs their employees may be exposed to and:
- ensure that exposure is below a set of Exposure Limit Values (ELVs)
- when appropriate, assess the risks of employees’ exposure and eliminate or minimise those risks. You must ensure you take workers at particular risk, such as expectant mothers and workers with active or passive implanted or body worn medical devices, into account
- when appropriate, devise and implement an action plan to ensure compliance with the exposure limits
- provide information and training on the particular risks, if any, posed to employees by EMFs in the workplace and details of any action taken to remove or control them
- take action if employees are exposed to EMFs in excess of the ELVs
- provide health surveillance as appropriate.
How do I know what equipment is high risk?
The vast majority of equipment in use in the average workplace will not exceed the ELV’s, therefore no additional action is required.
An example of some equipment that may exceed the ELV includes:
- Broadcast & telecoms base stations, inside the operator’s designated exclusion zone
- Dielectric heating and welding
- Electrically powered trains and trams
- Furnaces, arc and induction melting
- Induction heating
- Induction soldering
- Industrial electrolysis
- Industrial magnetiser and demagnetisers e.g. tape erasers
- Magnetic particle inspection (crack detection)
- Maintenance of radar or high powered communications systems
- Medical diagnostic and treatment equipment using EMFs e.g. diathermy and transcranial magnetic stimulation
- Microwave heating and drying
- MRI equipment
- Radar – air traffic control, weather & long range
- Radio and TV broadcasting systems and devices
- Radio frequency or microwave energised lighting equipment
- Resistance welding, manual spot and seam welding.
If I use this equipment, what must I do?
You must assess the potential level of EMFs your workers may be exposed to. This is the first step in your assessment of any possible risks to your employees from EMFs.
The risk assessment must include, as relevant, consideration of:
- the Action Levels and Expose Limit Values
- the frequency of the EMFs, level, duration and type of exposure, including the distribution over the employee’s body and the variations between areas in the workplace
- direct effects
- the existence of replacement equipment designed to reduce the level of exposure to EMFs
- information obtained from any appropriate health surveillance undertaken
- information available from the manufacturer of relevant equipment
- other health and safety related information
- multiple sources of exposure
- indirect effects
- workers at particular risk
- simultaneous exposure to multiple frequency fields.
This assessment should then be documented, controls implemented, communicated, and regularly reviewed, as per any other risk assessment. Simple measures to reduce exposure may be the easiest way to ensure that exposure is beneath the relevant ELV. Examples could include moving the worker further away from the EMF source, or installing screening. If however, more controls are required, then an action plan will be needed. This in essence, is a safe system of work that identifies the choice of equipment producing less intense EMFs; use of physical screening or similar health protection mechanisms; use of signage, access controls and floor markings; maintenance arrangements; supervision and management; training requirements; health surveillance and personal protective equipment etc.
Jonathan Hughes, is head of training and litigation at Capita Health and Safety.
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