New regulations concerning electromagnetic fields at the workplace: how to become compliant?

The dangers associated with electromagnetic fields are, from now onwards, amongst the risks that all employers are required to assess and prevent. This has been imposed by the Royal Decree of 20 May 2016, which appeared in the “Moniteur belge” [Belgian Official Gazette] on 10 June of this year. But how can these risks specifically be assessed? What measures can we envisage to prevent them without bringing out the big guns? And what details should be ensured to be in compliance? Below, three experts explain how to proceed, and how Vinçotte can assist you.

"Currently, every employer is required to evaluate the risks to employees resulting from electromagnetic fields in the workplace, and to take the necessary measures to protect its employees", says André Waegeneers, Electricity Activity Manager at Vinçotte.

These new regulations, set out by the Royal Decree of 20 May 2016, translate the European Directive of 26 June 2013 (2013/35/EU) into Belgian law. They have been applicable since their publication in the “Moniteur belge”, on 10 June 2016. They are consistent with the “Code sur le bien-être au travail” [Belgian code on well-being of employees in the workplace], which requires employers to protect their employees against all types of risks, those related to: electricity, fire, psycho-social workload, ergonomics, etc.

Short term effects

The risks that these new regulations cover, concern all of the short term effects that electromagnetic fields have on health.

As Benoît Coget, Electricity Project Engineer explains, “we can think of the direct effects. On the one hand the thermal effects, for example the heating of human tissue, that you can feel during a long conversation on a mobile phone”. On the other hand, non-thermal effects are also taken into account, which includes: stimulation of the muscles, nerves or sensory organs, and can result in temporary symptoms such as dizziness. Furthermore, these electromagnetic fields can also result in currents inside limbs.

“Alongside these direct effects”, the expert continues, “the legislation also targets the indirect effects, caused by the presence of an object in an electromagnetic field, such as: interference with medical devices such as pacemakers or implants, the risk of metal parts projection, the unexpected ignition of detonators…”.

Step 1: risk evaluation

How should one specifically proceed in order to become compliant? The first step is to analyse the risks. This begins with an inventory: what are the different sources of electromagnetic fields in your company and thus in the workplace? This question is not as simple as it seems, given the number of pieces of equipment that can emit such fields, such as: MRI-NMR facilities in hospital settings, electricity distribution, induction furnaces, welding equipment, industrial microwave ovens, as well as the telecommunications domain (cell phones, Wi-Fi, etc.).

>> List of the various categories of potential sources of electromagnetic fields:

For every source identified, it must then be determined if the emitted electromagnetic field complies with the exposure limit values set by type of employee: employees not subject to any specific risks, employees subject to specific risks excluding active implants or employees subject to specific risks fitted with active implants.

Where it is not possible to reliably establish compliance with the exposure limit values, this assessment is carried out on the basis of measurements.

Step 2: customised preventive measures

Here, the trick is to choose the most adequate measures to protect one’s employees without having to replace all of one’s equipment or invest in costly protective measures.

According to Gilles Haesebrouck, Electricity Lead Technical Manager, “the employer sometimes thinks that he is going to have to invest astronomical amounts in order to comply. Most of the time, this isn’t true. Thanks to its expertise and experience in a wide variety of sectors, Vinçotte is generally able to offer low or no cost solutions.”

Steps 3 and 4: documenting and informing

The employer must be able to demonstrate, at any time, that have carried out a rigorous risk analysis and implemented preventive solutions. He is also required to inform its employees and to train them on the implemented preventive measures.

Step 5: follow up!

All risk analysis professionals know that the work is not finished after the appropriate preventive measures have been implemented. Risks are continuously evolving. This is also true within the context of electromagnetic fields: you put a new piece of electrical equipment into service, you adapt your processes, an employee fitted with a pacemaker changes his work location, etc. You therefore have to re-evaluate the risks and adapt, if necessary, your preventive measures. By integrating this follow-up into your procedures, you are ensuring that your employees remain protected. And you will remain compliant with the legislation.

How can Vinçotte help you in this process?

Do you need assistance in order to comply with the new regulations?

Vinçotte can help you to:

  • make an inventory of your electromagnetic field sources;
  • assess their emission level on the basis of the available technical documentation, and if that documentation is not available, carry out measurements. To do this, our “special measures” unit has a range of equipment adapted to the types of fields and frequencies to be measured, as well as practical experience in the domain;
  • determine for each workplace and type of employee whether you are reaching the limit values;
  • determine preventive measures intended to reduce the risks if the limit values are exceeded;
  • get the most out of the advice and professional support in fulfilling your obligations regarding traceability, information and the training of your staff.

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