Occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields: paving the way for a future EU initiative

This conference was held as part of the process of wording the revised version of EU Directive 2004/40/EC on occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF), originally intended to be implemented in the member states by the 30th of April 2008, now postponed until 30th of April 2012.  The postponement was mainly due to 1) strong opposition from the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) users and 2) the European Parliament and the Council were made aware of new scientific studies on the impact on health of exposure to electromagnetic fields that were made public after the directive was adopted. These studies shed another light on some difficult issues regarding how to deal with the exposure in specific situations such as those experienced by workers near a MRI-scanner.

The conference was organized by the Swedish EU Presidency in association with the European Commission and was arranged by the Swedish Work Environment Authority (SWEA) and Umeå University.  The goal was to open a discussion with stakeholders well in advance of the decision to be taken by the Parliament and by the Council.  The specific program for the meeting was discussed and set up by the scientific organising committee for the meeting:

  • Kjell Hansson Mild, UmU, chair
  • Georges Herbillon, EC
  • Roland Gauthy, ETUI-REHS
  • Janez Marinko, SWEA
  • Birgitta Melin, SWEA
  • Jimmy Estenberg, SSM
  • Alastair McKinlay, HPA
  • Eric van Rongen, NL
  • Paolo Vecchia, IT

Representatives of the Member States, branch organisations and the stakeholders were invited to attend the conference.  The 126 registered participants came from 20 different countries including EU member states, Australia, Japan, Norway and the USA. The meeting had 11 sessions with a total of 36 presentations by speakers representing academia, industry, social partners, governmental and other regulatory agencies.  It included sections on:

  • Setting the context
  • Update on reported health effects and problems
  • International and national perspective and guidelines
  • EMF in medical activities
  • EMF in industrial activities. How to work safely with EMF?
  • Recent non binding initiatives and good practices
  • Measuring occupational exposure and comparing to limit values
  • Accreditation and training
  • Groups with special needs

Key speakers and persons considered amongst the most experienced experts from all over the world were invited to contribute. Ample time was given in each session for discussion.


Five areas of concern, with respect to the Directive, were identified during the meeting:

1.  Exposure Limit Values and Action Values
The recommendations from IEEE/ICES and ICNIRP differ in the low- and intermediate frequency range. The reasons for this difference are not obvious.  The two organizations were asked to identify and explain the reason for the differences and, if possible, draft a common recommendation.

2.  Assessment, Measurement and Calculation
Assessment of EMF by numerical methods is complicated and in the general cases not an option for the employer. Many technical questions are still open.

3.  Guidance for Risk Assessment
There is need for advice to employers on risk assessment, especially concerning ”workers at risk”, medical implants, information and training.

4.  Difficulties for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)
Calculation and measurement of exposure as well as training of workers might be expensive for SMEs.

5.  Medical surveillance
There is a need for guidance on the performance of health surveillance and on treatment of overexposure. The medical doctors present at the meeting have also made specific comments to this point; see further the conclusions and the Doctor´s statement on the website of the meeting.

These are further discussed in the Conclusions from the meeting, posted on the web site of the SWEA, http://www.av.se/inenglish/aboutus/eu/electromagnetic.aspx.

A full report from the rapporteur, Dr Paolo Rossi, Italy, and all of the abstracts and pdf-files of the presentations can also be found on the website, from which they may be downloaded.