Rules on Electromagnetic Fields

The EU is looking to impose stricter rules for protection of workers from the dangers of electromagnetic fields.
 
To this end, it has proposed new exposure limit values and help for employers to carry out efficient risk assessments, based on new scientific studies.

The aim, according to the Commission, is to achieve a fair balance between worker safety and employer obligations to ensure safety at the workplace.

Background

Directive 2004/40/EC provides health and safety rules for all worker categories and sets exposure limit values for electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields between 0 and 300 GHz3.

The Directive should have initially been transposed by Member States by 30 April 2008, but the final deadline was postponed until 30 April 2012.

On 14 June 2011, the Commission put forward a new proposal to repeal Directive 2004/40/EC, taking into account the new scientific data derived from studies and recommendations of the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Aim of the Proposal

The proposed Directive aims to:
• Provide clearer definitions on terms such as adverse health effects
• Create two different limit value systems with regard to exposure to electromagnetic fields
• Introduce common indicators to facilitate calculations
• Lay down guidelines with regard to risk assessments
• Present a flexible framework that would permit derogations for industry
• Revise the medical surveillance system
• Provide special provisions for medical applications using magnetic resonance (MRI)

Key Amendments Proposed

The proposal puts forward a number of amendments to the current Directive on the protection of workers exposed to electromagnetic fields including:

A. Clearer definitions

The new Directive provides for the first time definitions for the terms ‘orientation value’, ‘adverse health effects’ and ‘adverse safety effects’. 
• ‘Orientation values’ are parameters that can be measured and which are based on the frequency range of the electromagnetic field
• ‘Adverse health effects’ are biological effects that have a detrimental effect on mental and physical condition of exposed workers
• ‘Adverse safety effects’ are defined as effects creating temporary annoyance or affecting brain or muscle functions and which might affect worker safety

B. Revised limit values

The proposed Directive retains the same exposure limit values for frequencies ranging from 100 kHz to 300 kHz as the ones set in the Directive 2004/40/EC. However, the new measure also sets out the limit values for lower frequencies ranging from 0 Hz to 100 kHz (100 thousand cycles per second).

The proposed Directive also provides for some exemptions, such as for certain medical applications and military equipment.

C. Raising the limit for ferromagnetic objects

The new Directive changes the limit value for the projectile risk caused by ferromagnetic objects and raises it from 3 to 30 mT.

D. Two different health surveillance systems

The measure also proposes different health surveillance systems based on the two frequency ranges (see Revised limit values). The Directive states that for exposures up to 100 kHz, health problems of workers should be reported to people responsible for medical surveillance. If workers are exposed to limits exceeding 300 GHz, a medical examination should always be available. If health damage is proven to have been caused by exposure, then a risk assessment should take place.

E. Deleting modification provision

The proposal deletes the provision of the current Directive, according to which the Commission could be empowered by the Council and the Parliament to modify the exposure limit values through the procedure of ‘delegated acts’.

F. Risk assessment guidelines

The new measure also proposes that the Commission will draw up practical guidelines on both the conduct of the risk assessment and the implementation of the Directive.

Maintaining objectives

The new Directive also retains a number of principles and provisions previously included in the text of the current Directive such as:
• Stating that all types of work activities are covered, though clarifying that the Directive will govern activities that only take place during work
• Focusing on exposure limit values for electromagnetic fields ranging from 100 kHz to 300 GHz
• Providing information and training for workers on issues such as exposure limit values, potential risks of exposure to electromagnetic fields and calculation of levels of exposure to electromagnetic field
• Providing for sanctions in case legislation is violated. National sanction rules should be efficient and proportionate
• Ensuring a medical surveillance system in the workplace

Annexes

The new measure includes 4 Annexes that lay down rules on:
• Physical quantities regarding the exposure to electromagnetic fields
• Exposure to electromagnetic fields in the frequency range from 0 to 100kHz
• Exposure to electromagnetic fields in the frequency range from 100kHz to 300gHz
• Specific measures for medical applications using the magnetic resonance effect and some related activities

Next Steps

The proposal will be sent to the Council and the European Parliament for examination. The Parliament is expected to discuss the proposal during the second half of 2011 and is only expected to reach its first reading position during the first half of 2012. Following the Parliament’s first reading adoption the Council will determine its final position.