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EMF in Manufacturing Environments: Why it Matters

17th April 2018

If you operate a manufacturing site which uses high current or high voltage applications, electromagnetic fields (EMF) must be a consideration.  Whether from power lines, power distribution or transforming equipment, there are many ways in which EMF can be produced, and in some cases we might not even know about them.

The government’s Health and Safety Executive does regulate EMF to an extent, but this is largely complaint or accident driven. The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work (CEMFAW) Regulations 2016 sets out employers’ obligations to assess the levels of EMFs to which employees may be exposed, and to ensure that exposure is below exposure limit values (ELVs).

There is also European Union guidance on workers’ exposure to EMF in the form of Directive 2013/35/EU, and the Health Protection Agency has supported an independent study into the health effects of EMF in the work place.

In short, the information on EMF safety is out there, and the onus is on manufacturers themselves to ensure that they take responsibility for operating in an environment which does not put their employees at risk.

There are certainly knowledge gaps in evidence when it comes to EMF in manufacturing, so it is worth starting with the basics. At higher frequencies - that is, those over 10 MHz - the body absorbs energy from EMF, and with this absorption comes the potential of a number health effects. Among the reported health effects from high frequency EMF are cognitive interference, nausea and vertigo, visual phosphenes (flickering of the eye ball), and shocks and burns when a worker comes into contact with a conductive object which has been excited by EMF.

However, the most pertinent of all the health concerns for manufacturers is the ability of high frequency EMF to heat the body to dangerous levels. This effect can cause tissue damage due to the elevated temperature of the body, specifically with temperatures in excess of 1-2°.

In manufacturing, an essential step in the process for ensuring EMF safety is to gain an understanding of EMF in a specific environment. Until site managers understand exactly what they are working with, it is difficult to take the necessary measures. For example, while studies have found low level EMF exposure to show inconclusive evidence of adverse health effects, other pieces of research have highlighted a group of people who have demonstrated hypersensitivity to EMF. For this reason, it is vital for manufacturers to know the current levels of EMF exposure a work force is subject to in order to ascertain if they constitute a risk.

Undergoing EMF testing is the only way manufacturers can be sure where they stand, before undertaking any of the other measures which are demanded by the government’s CEMFAW Regulations. These secondary steps include ensuring that work places are on the right side of ELVs, but can also entail; devising and implementing an EMF exposure action plan; internal communication strategies to inform employees of any EMF risks and measures being taken to remove them; and providing health surveillance or medical examinations when necessary.

Depending on test results, manufacturers might not need to take any of the measures detailed above, but as a starting point they do need to understand the ELVs present on their site.

From plasma systems to pacemakers, there are a multitude of ways in which potential EMF risks can be thrown up in a heavy machinery environment. To ascertain the EMF levels and related risks on your site, trust the EMF Testing service from IES. Read more about the service here.

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