EMFs are everywhere and need to be understood, regulated and managed

It was only in July 2016 that a UK regulation to enforce best practice and safety was put in place – The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016[1].

Not very exciting I hear you say. Maybe, but Electromagnetic Fields exist throughout the universe, just at different frequencies, strengths, and with very different impacts on structures and organisms.  

The phenomenon of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) has been studied for over two centuries. Although the scientific community has long been intrigued by the topic since electricity was discovered, it wasn’t until late in the 20th century that the effects on human cell structures were properly recognised and studied, let alone regulated.   

Unsurprisingly, the regulations are not widely understood or monitored. Hence, if you asked your friend what are the effects of the electromagnetic fields on society, they would probably think you had had an electric shock and needed to lie down.

EMF impact on each of us

Let’s look at the impact of unregulated Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs). To be blunt, an EMF can have many detrimental effects on the human body which vary according to the frequency and exposure levels. A person can receive a direct impact either through micro shocks to the body or to implanted medical devices such as pacemakers and hearing aids, with potential serious consequences. Special consideration should also be given to pregnant women as there can be long term affects to the unborn child.  If the levels are above the normal limits to which our bodies operate, then the effects include flickering sensations in the vision and peripheral nerve stimulations causing painful limbs and joints.

Research at Michigan State University, published in Science Daily, 16 Oct 2000, identified that electromagnetic fields, similar to those found in overhead power lines, can have a biological effect on human cells, an effect that could contribute to the complex cellular process that leads to cancer.

Figure 1  ICNIRP exposure levels

Figure 1: The Directive1 has “exposure limits values” (ELV, the internal quantity, equivalent to International Commission on Non-Ionizing radiation Protection (ICNIRP’s[2]) “reference level”). It has two sets of each: the “health” ELV and corresponding “high” action level. The above diagram shows these values at 50 Hz for electric and magnetic fields. The ELVs have been converted to ELVs to equivalent external fields, using the best available dosimetry, that of Dimbylow.[3] 

Growing Employer regulation and responsibilities

In most countries, including the UK, regulations have been published to govern EMF produced by man, with the focus being primarily on the effects on employees. The responsibilities and liabilities are with employers and since 2016, the occupational exposure limits have been legally enforceable.  

For public exposure, there are, so far, no statutory exposure limits in the UK. The limits that apply do so as a matter of Government policy. Some industries including the rail and electricity industries have a policy / guidelines for complying. Some do not, and it is doubtful if the limits could be legally enforced. As with any radiation the safest measures are to maximise distance and shielding from the source.

Personal experience

We are part of the team working on the new Railway Station in Birmingham. Recent discussions have focused, in part, on the EMF safety of the project. We welcome this and are pleased to provide expert advice and the processes required to monitor and safely manage EMFs.

We believe that additional research studies are needed to develop a better understanding of the Electromagnetic Environment and how it affects living organisms and electrical and electronic assets. This could lead to clearer guidelines on employers and employees’ respective responsibilities and liabilities.

TenBroeke Engineering provide infrastructure design and delivery.  We have industry leading engineers in Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) and ensure that there is no Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) between all the systems and sub-systems that are required to ensure the safe and reliable operations of the facilities we design and deliver.

Here are 3 actions you can take to start to meet the EMF regulations:

  • Study, and educate all levels of your staff as to the cause and effects of EMF
  • Require the issues of EMF to be addressed early in the design and development process of projects
  • Conduct an EMF review of internal and external workspaces

For more information, contact TenBroeke Engineering: email info@tenbroekeco.com

or the author: sherman.havens@tenbroekeco.com

                          mobile: +44 (0)78 8705 9710

[1] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2016/588/made/data.pdf  Statutory Instruments, 2016 No. 588, Health and Safety, The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations

[2] http://www.icnirp.org/cms/upload/publications/ICNIRPLFgdl.pdf ICNIPRP GUIDELINES For limiting Exposure to Time-Varying Electric and Magnetic Fields (1 Hz – 100 kHz), Published in Health Physics 99(6):818-836; 2010

[3] http://www.emfs.info/limits/limits-organisations/eu-2013/