BBEMG - Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

Occupational health

Occupational health

1. A patient asked me if he runs a risk at his factory. He works at least 6 hours a week in an area near (i.e. within 8 meters) a 150 kV cable. Could you help me advise this patient?

To answer your question, it is helpful to know more about the field intensity levels to which your patient is exposed. 

Concerning health effects and EMF exposure, the debate is still open. But various reports of experts published, in the last few years, have reached the same conclusion concerning cancer.

For questions other than those related to cancer, such as neuro-degenerative disorders, sleep disorders, headache, there are still very few answers.

2. We work in the vicinity of a 15 kV transformer station and from time to time, our computer screens flicker. We are upset about the effects on our health, especially as our employer does not accept to take any measurements. It there a law to force him to take them?

Only the occupational physician or the safety coordinator are qualified to deal with this kind of problem. These persons could make a risk analysis and ask a lab to make measurements. If these persons are unable to help you, you can contact the labour inspection of your country. In Belgium, you will find further information at this address:

A European directive exists that limits the occupational exposure to EMF. However, this directive has not yet been passed in the Belgian law and thus is not applicable in Belgium yet. This standard will impose making risk analysis and limiting exposure. Member States are going to enforce the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive no later than 1 July 2016. Further information on the content of this directive are available at Directive 2013/35/EU.

3. In our metallurgy sector, we use electric blasting furnaces that produce magnetic fields. Should we protect ourselves from them?

It is obvious that induction furnaces can lead to relatively high exposure to magnetic fields. Thus, it is necessary to make a risk analysis and measurement of electric and magnetic fields in order to comply with exposure limits defined in 2013/35/EU directive repealing directive 2004/40/EC. This new European directive is intended to limit the exposure of workers to these fields and will have to be transposed in the Member States in July 2016.

4. What kind of equipment should be placed to protect workers against high electromagnetic fields from high voltage lines ?

In a working environment with high electromagnetic fields, workers have to address their inquiries to the Health and Safety Dept of their company. This department will perform a risk analysis of the workplace and provide an appropriate action plan, if needed.

5. What are the effects of electromagnetic fields on the structure of the bone? Do workers exposed to magnetic fields at frequencies near or above 50 Hz need to be particularly monitored?

Within the BBEMG, LROT team is studying the in vitro effects of low frequency fields. Here is their answer:

The frequency is only one of the multiple parameters which characterize an electromagnetic field.

To answer, we'll do a number of assumptions, the main one being that it is a non industrial environment. Under these conditions of low frequencies and low amplitudes, we never observed effects on biological models

We have exposed several models of bone tissues to electromagnetic fields. The only effects seen were on growing tissues or in healing, never on healthy tissues. The observed responses showed an acceleration of normal physiological processes of growth or healing, never an anarchic or pathologic cellular response. Experimental protocols were characterized by continuous exposure to electromagnetic fields characterized by a pulse wave train of frequencies much greater than the 50 Hz of the household current.

Similar effects were produced by electric fields with the same characteristics as the previously described electromagnetic fields, with shorter exposure periods but larger amplitudes. For a biological effect to be observed, extremely harsh conditions are therefore needed which are unlikely met at random in a normal environment.

Treatments using these well-characterized electromagnetic fields have been proposed to treat fractures, pseudarthrosis (fractures that do not consolidate) and osteonecrosis. We could only demonstrate a positive effect on the consolidation of hypertrophic pseudarthrosis and a stabilization of the development of osteonecrosis. No unfavourable effect has been observed.

For further information, please feel free to contact LROT team.

Documents & Links

  • 2013/35/EU directive 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).
  • Studiedag Elektromagnetische Velden. Belgian Society for Occupational Hygiene, 2014 (in French and in Dutch).
  • Non-ionizing radiation: Belgian Society for Occupational Hygiene.
  • WHO EMF project: Fact and information sheets involving electromagnetic fields and public health and EMF world wide standards.
  • Pages on Standards of the BBEMG website.

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Latest update on 16/05/2015

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