What are Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)?

Refer to HSE Guidance HSG281 Electromagnetic Fields at Work

An Electromagnetic Field (EMF) is produced whenever a piece of electrical or electronic equipment (i.e. TV, food mixer, computer mobile phone etc.) is used. EMFs are static electric, static magnetic and time-varying electric, magnetic and electromagnetic (radio wave) fields with frequencies up to 300 GHz. They are a form of non-ionising radiation.

Non-Ionising radiation is any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy to ionise atoms or molecules (convert them to ions).

What are the effects of exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)?

EMFs at different frequencies affect the human body in different ways, causing sensory and health effects that may be irritating or unpleasant.

Sensory effects include nausea, vertigo, metallic taste in the mouth, flickering sensations (magnetophosphenes) in peripheral vision.

Health effects include micro shocks, nerve stimulation, effects on the central and peripheral nervous system of the body: tingling, muscle contraction, heart arrhythmia, and thermal stress such as burns.

Indirect effects include interference with active or passive implanted or body-worn medical devices, electric shocks, uncontrolled attraction of ferromagnetic objects (potential to be struck by flying objects) and sparks caused by induced fields triggering fires or explosions where flammable fuels, vapours or gases are present.

What are Action Levels and Exposure Limit Values?

Action Levels are Exposure levels which if not exceeded will ensure compliance with associated Exposure Limit Values and no further action is required.

Exposure Limit Values are an exposure level which, if exceeded, could potentially pose a risk of harm to persons.

Employees at particular risk are employees who have informed you of any condition which could mean they are more susceptible to effects from EMF exposure (such as their wearing of active implanted medical devices (AIMDs), passive implanted medical devices (PIMDs) or body-worn medical devices (BWMDs) or of their pregnancy) and employees who work in close proximity to electro-explosive devices, explosive materials or flammable atmospheres.

Process for managing potential exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)

  • Check for sources of EMF within areas of responsibility. Record outcome of check, even if no hazardous sources identified. Use tables in HSG281 for guidance.

  • Assess the levels of EMFs to which persons may be exposed. Consult:

    • manufacturers data
    • tables in HSG281 of equipment and associated risk
    • relevant British Standards
  • Carry out and record a risk assessment for hazardous sources of EMF.

  • Devise and Implement an action plan where exposure could exceed the exposure limit value to reduce levels.

  • Ensure employees at particular risk are taken into account in the risk assessment.

  • Provide information and training on the particular risks posed to employees by EMFs in the workplace and details of any action taken to remove or control them.

  • Take appropriate action if employees could be exposed to EMFs in excess of the Exposure Limit Values (ELVs).

  • Health surveillance or medical examination to be arranged with UHSE if identified as required within the risk assessment.

  • Use any protective equipment provided to prevent/minimise exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) in the workplace when required and in accordance with instruction.

The University has published a Safety Standard (June 2020). This document sets out the University's arrangements for managing EMF risk. The standard sets out roles and responsibilities of Heads of Department, Line Managers, Supervisors and workers. This document is next due for review June 2023.