• 14 MAY 13
    • 0

    EU institutions agree on new rules to protect workers from electromagnetic fields – but are they protective enough?

    The following EU agreement, on the face of it, reads like a real breakthrough. However note the qualifying statement: “not to unduly hamper the use and development of industrial and medical activities”. My reading of this indicates that ICNIRP”s rational for health protection (short term/ acute exposure protection) will likely remain the basis for this new directive.

    Will the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) be happy with these new rules? The ETUC has previously opposed the draft EU agreement because it followed the ICNIRP limits which “only considers short-term effects of exposure and disregards the long-term impacts on workers” health”. The ETUC have called for binding legislation needed to protect worker”s health from EMF exposure risks. See: http://www.etui.org/Topics/Health-Safety/News/Draft-Electromagnetic-Fields-Directive-not-up-to-scratch-says-ETUC

    The question is: Are these new rules still just a rehashing of ICNIRP’s industry friendly limitations?



    EU institutions agree on new rules to protect workers from electromagnetic fields


    The Council of the EU, the European Parliament and the European Commission have reached an agreement on 26 March on a new directive protecting workers from potential risks associated with electromagnetic fields.

    The directive addresses the protection of workers exposed to electromagnetic fields and the carrying out of effective and efficient risk assessments, proportional to the situation encountered at the workplace.

    It also defines a protection system that graduates the level of risk in a simple and easily understandable way and commits the European Commission to producing practical guidelines to assist employers in meeting their obligations under the directive.

    The directive contains technical annexes setting out the Exposure Limit Values. Member States have the option of maintaining or adopting more favourable provisions for the protection of workers, in particular the fixing of lower values for the “Action Levels” or the “Exposure Limit Values” for electromagnetic fields.
    Next steps

    The directive will now be examined to ensure that its legal texts are harmonised with the existing EU Workplace Health & Safety legislation. It is hoped that the Directive will be transposed into national law by all Member States by July 2016 at the latest.


    Directive 2004/40/EC laid out the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from electromagnetic fields. After its adoption, serious concerns were expressed by stakeholders, in particular from the medical community, on the potential impact on the use of medical procedures based on medical imaging (e.g. MRI scanning). Concerns were also expressed on the impact of the directive on certain industrial activities.

    The deadline for transposition of Directive 2004/40/EC was postponed a first time until 30 April 2012 with Directive 2008/46/EC.

    In June 2011, the European Commission presented a proposal for a new directive to replace Directive 2004/40/EC, which has now been agreed upon by the three EU institutions. The aim was to:

    * update the text to take on board new scientific evidence, particularly in relation to exposure limits of MRI in hospitals;
    * help employers in their efforts to carry out the risk assessments required by EU law;
    * balance the protection of workers’ health and safety with appropriate flexibility and proportionality, not to unduly hamper the use and development of
    industrial and medical activities.

    In May last year, with the EU institutions still looking for consensus on the matter, the deadline for transposition of Directive 2004/40/EC was postponed a second time until 31 October 2013 with Directive 2012/11/EU.


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