Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) can be found in almost every workplace. They are created by all types of electrical equipment and, in most instances, are harmless and are unlikely to affect the health of workers.
EMFs are defined as static electric, static magnetic and time-varying electric, magnetic and electromagnetic (radio wave) fields with frequencies up to 300 GHz.
As the field intensifies, so the risk of adverse health effects also rises, although in most cases, even fairly intense fields will cause little obvious effect to most people’s health and where there is an effect, this will probably be limited to irritating or unpleasant, rather than dangerous symptoms, with effects varying according to frequency.
There is currently no well-established scientific research that offers evidence of long-term health problems related to EMF exposure despite several national and industry specific studies.
Employers must assess and manage the risk of exposure to EMFs in the workplace in line with CEMFAW Regulations. Guidance about these regulations can be found in HSE document HSG281 https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/hsg281.htm
Work with, or that involves the use of welding equipment, induction heaters, arc furnaces, radio transmitters or working with high voltage generation and transmission may result in significant exposure, as might the use of dielectric heaters, RADAR or other electrical equipment that draws a significant current, but this list is far from exhaustive and there are many more sources of EMF exposure in every workplace.
Occupational Health providers, such as MOHS Workplace Health can help employers manage these risks by undertaking EMF Health Assessments.
The assessment is usually “paper-based” (there are no actual measurements undertaken) and may relate to:
- The use (and malfunction) of implantable electronic devices such as pacemakers, defibrillators, and cochlea implants.
- Non-electronic implantable devices such as prosthetic valves, joints, pins & plates.
- External electronic medical equipment such as pumps and syringe drivers.
Some people may be more sensitive than others to EMFs and may report symptoms such as nausea, vertigo, metallic taste in the mouth or flickering sensations in their peripheral vision.
As part of the assessment, it is also useful to question employees about the effects of electric shock (Including static shocks), which can cause involuntary muscle contractions or heart palpitations, as well as more serious affects.
Thermal stress and localised heating effects may also be present in some cases and guidance suggests that pregnant women should avoid exposure to the strong electromagnetic fields.
Where undesirable health effects are identified, some employees may need to be temporarily or permanently excluded from areas where exposure to strong EMFs is likely.
Deputy Chief OH Advisor
MOHS Workplace Health