Long term effects of EMF radiation has not yet been proven, however, the regulations do cover short-term direct biophysical effects, which are scientifically well established, as well as indirect effects such as interference with cardiac pacemakers.
The direct biophysical effects are broadly categorised as thermal effects – the heating of tissue through absorption of energy from EMFs – and non-thermal effects, such as the stimulation of muscles, nerves or sensory organs. Thermal effects tend to occur at frequencies of more than 100kHz, while non-thermal effects are characteristic of lower frequencies, typically less than 10MHz. Between 100kHz and 10MHz, both thermal and non-thermal effects may be evident.
Exposure to high levels of EM fields can give rise to effects that may be irritating or unpleasant. The effects that occur depend on the frequency range and intensity of the radiation to which an employee is exposed.
In reality, these effects are rare and will not occur in most day-to-day work situations. However, this does not remove the legal requirement for the employer to assess any areas that may be at risk and to ensure any radiation is within the accepted safe limits. In the UK, those sectors with significant exposure to EM fields are the health care sector, energy distribution, engineering, broadcasting, transport and telecommunications.
More information on the effects of EMF can be found in A guide to the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016 (HSG 281).