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EMF Directive

The short name "EMF Directive" refers to the European Occupational Safety Directive 2013/35, which has the official title "DIRECTIVE 2013/35/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 26 June 2013 on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields) (20th individual Directive within the meaning of Article 16(1) of Directive 89/391/EEC) and repealing Directive 2004/40/EC".

According to the Directive, a risk assessment must be made, e.g. by means of suitable measurements, and the results documented for all workplaces within the EU. This is the responsibility of the employer, who must, if necessary, take measures to avoid or reduce the risks.

The Directive sets limits for exposure to electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields with frequencies between 0 Hz and 300 GHz. These limits are generally based on the recommendations of ICNIRP, the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

Biophysical effects

The Directive distinguishes between two types of direct biophysical effect that can be caused by electromagnetic fields:

  • Thermal effects such as tissue heating due to energy absorption. These mostly occur at frequencies between 100 kHz and 300 GHz.
  • Stimulation of muscles, nerves, and sensory organs. These effects are mostly caused by fields with frequencies between 0 Hz and 10 MHz.

The Directive also mentions other, indirect effects such as spark discharge, contact currents, interference with medical electronic equipment such as pacemakers, and the projectile risk from ferromagnetic objects in static magnetic fields.

Exposure level values and action levels

Exposure Level Values (ELVs) refer to the field values within the human body. The Directive defines

  • Sensory effects ELVs: Limits for transient disturbance of sensory perception
  • Health effects ELVs: Limits for adverse health effects, such as thermal heating or stimulation of nerve and muscle tissue

Because the field values within the human body cannot be measured but can only be determined from highly complex calculations, the Directive specifies so-called Action Levels.
Action Levels (ALs) are operational levels for the workplace that are considered to demonstrate compliance with the relevant ELVs. They are directly measureable. The Directive distinguishes between

  • Low ALs relating to sensory effects ELVs
  • High ALs relating to health effects ELVs

Protective or preventive measures must be taken as soon as the low ALs are exceeded.

Obligations of employers

Employers must ensure that the ELVs for employees are not exceeded. To do this, they must assess the risks and determine the exposure

  • Based on emission specifications given by the device manufacturers
  • By measurement
  • By calculation where necessary

The assessment is to be made by competent services or persons at suitable intervals and the data preserved in a suitable tracable form.

The Directive further obligates employers to take measures to avoid or reduce the risks and to inform employees and / or their representatives of such measures and to provide employees with information about the possible risks and their effects.

Exceptions

Sensory effects ELVs may be temporarily exceeded if

  • this is justified by the practice or process
  • provided that the health effects ELVs are not exceeded, and
  • the risk assessment is updated accordingly, and
  • employees are informed about the possiblye symptoms, perceptions, and effects

This particularly applies to the research, development, and application of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the medical field. Other protective systems can be employed for operational military equipment or military activity.

The Directive stresses that it is not to be used to justify any regression in more stringent existing national exposure limit regulations.

History

The Directive's predecessor, 2004/40/EC, came into effect on 29th April 2004. The deadline for member states to implement it in national laws, originally set for 30th April 2008, was first extended to 30th April 2012 and then to 31st October 2013. This was due to serious concerns regarding its impact on medical procedures based on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and on certain industrial activities.

The new Directive 2013/35/EU came into force as soon as it was published in the Official Journal of the European Union. Directive 2004/40/EC was repealed at the same time. The EU Commission will publish non-binding guidelines for implementing the new Directive by the end of 2015. Member states have until 1st July 2016 to bring into force the necessary laws for implementing the Directive.