Non-ionising Radiation

Action plan for health and safety representatives

As with all workplace hazards, non-ionising radiation should be dealt with in this way:

  1. Identification of the hazard (see information below)
  2. Assessment of the risk
  3. Control: Elimination or reduction of the risk elimination or reduction of the risk
  4. Review and evaluation of any control strategies.

1 - Identification of the hazard

  • Ensure your employer identifies and labels all sources of Electro-magnetic radiation (EMR);
  • Ensure your employer monitors emissions and checks workers' exposure levels;
  • Talk to members of your work group about the hazards of radiation and their control, and any effects they may be experiencing on a regular basis.

2 - Assessment of the risk

  • The employer should check exposure levels per worker per working day. These should not exceed:
    • ELF - 500 volts/metre
    • Computer screens - 10 V/m (electric field) or 2mG (magnetic field) (this is from the ACTU Policy on Screen Based Equipment 1998 - this can be downloaded here)
    • RF/MW - 0.1 milliwatts/cm2
    • IR - 1 milliwatt/cm2
    • Visible light - 1 milliwatt/cm2
    • UV-A - 0.1 milliwatts/cm2
    • UV-B, C - 0.01 milliwatts/cm2
    • Lasers - AS 2211 (1997)
    • and in general, workers should not be exposed to more than 2mG over an eight hour period from any equipment, or the surrounding environment.

    NOTE: these are not legal standards but recommendations

3 - Control: Elimination or reduction of the risk

While research continues, employers should introduce the following measures to reduce EMF exposures:

  • Existing sources of EMR should be labelled as hazardous and contained: sources of emr should be labelled as hazardous and contained: >
  • Sources of electrical fields should be grounded/insulated;
  • Sources of RF/MW should be shielded and contained;
  • Immediate vicinity of transmitters should be "off limits";
  • Reflective objects should be placed between sources of IR radiation and workers;
  • For lasers and other visible light sources, optical systems (mirrors, lenses) should be aligned so those primary or reflective beams cannot enter the eye directly. (Telescopes should be fitted with interlocks and filters.)
  • UV sources should be shielded by a glass filter, which absorbs all wavelengths other than that corresponding to the purpose of the source.
  • Increasing the worker's distance from the EMF source. Magnetic fields drop off dramatically within about a metre of the source, so the design and placement of work stations can be in such a way as to reduce worker exposure.
  • Use of lower EMF designs where possible.
  • Suitable protective clothing and administrative controls, including job rotation and rest breaks, should be provided where engineering controls are unavailable or ineffective to reduce exposure levels.

4 - Review and evaluation of any control strategies.

  • Ensure the employer does regular environmental and medical monitoring to check effectiveness of control methods.

Ensure you take up any immediate issues with your employer. Contact your union for further information and advice.

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Legal Standards

There are no legal limits to the amount of non-ionising radiation to which workers may be exposed to in Victoria (however there are exposure limits for ionising radiation, in Table A of Schedule 2 of the Radiation Regulations, 2007)

Voluntary standards exist for EMR emissions from microwave ovens (ARPANSA sets these at 5 milliwatts/ cm2) and lasers.

The Radiofrequency fields - Maximum exposure levels - 3kHz to 300GHz standard can be downloaded from the ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) website. This standard specifies limits of human exposure to radiofrequecy fields in the range 3kHz to 300GHz to prevent adverse effects. It specifies basic restrictions for occupational exposure, general public exposure, and equipment and usage parameters.

In addition there are a large number of Australian Standards Association standards including: radiation (both ionising and non-ionising) safety in laboratories, personal protective equipment, laser safety, etc. Unless these are called up in Victorian legislation, they are have no regulatory status - but employers have a duty to take them into account when assessing what is 'reasonably practicable'. (The catalogue of all Australian Standards can be found SAI Global, publishers of Australian Standards).

There is an Australian Standard AS/NZS 2211.3:2002  Safety of laser products - Guidance for laser displays and shows as well as two standards on laser safety used in the Building industry: AS2397 and AS2211. The building industry award also had provisions for 'Laser Safety Officers', who were required to have the relevant training (and were entitled to a daily allowance). These provisions should have been also transferred to EBAs, particularly when the Awards were stripped back (but may not have been in all cases).

Remember, however, that the employer has a duty under the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety Act (2004) to provide and maintain for employees, as far as reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. This includes providing safe plant, a safe system of work, information, training, supervision, and where appropriate personal protective equipment. The employer also has the duty to monitor conditions at the workplace and to monitor the health and safety of employees.

In addition, the (old) Plant Code of Practice recommended that employers consider a number of Australian and other Standards on laser safety. Although the code is old, it should still be used for information and advice, at least until the Compliance Code for Plant is declared.

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More Information on non-ionising radiation

What is it?

For general information, go to the general information page. 

Non-ionising radiation is made up of low frequency, long wavelength and low energy electromagnetic waves. It includes ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared light, radiofrequency, very-low and extra-low frequency radiation. Manufactured sources include photocopiers; welding equipment; TV, radio and telecommunication transmission towers; mobile phones; microwaves; visual display units; power lines.

Non-ionising Radiation Spectrum
Long waves/low frequency ---------> shorter waves/higher frequency
Extra Low(ELF)Very Low(VLF)LowRadio FrequencyInfrared(IR)Visible LightUltraviolet
Lasers

Where does it occur?

Workers may be exposed to high magnetic fields if they work near electrical systems that use large amounts of electric power (eg large electric motors, general motors, generators, or the power supply or electric cables of a building). High magnetic fields are also found near power saws, drills, copy machines, electric pencil sharpeners, and other small electric appliances. The strength of the magnetic field depends on equipment design and current flow, not on equipment size, complexity or voltage.

Workers exposed to sources of EMR above normal levels include those in the power industry, telecommunications, offices and the construction and metal industries.

Ultraviolet (UV)

  • The sun - meaning those who work outdoors are at risk of exposure
  • Curing with UV (eg inks, coatings on floor & wall coverings, timber panels, fibre optics, etc)
  • UV sources in photocopiers and laser printers
  • Lasers
  • Black lights
  • Welding
  • Germicidal lamps

UV radiation reflects off water, sand, snow, concrete or any light-coloured surface. It also increases in intensity with altitude.

Visible light

  • Lasers
  • Spotlights
  • welding arcs

Infrared

  • Infrared is a component of radiant heat, therefore a factor in foundries & smelters.
  • Lasers
  • Molten glass
  • Infrared lamps
  • The sun

Radiofrequency Fields

Used mainly as a source of heat or in the communications industry:

  • TV, FM radio & radar transmitters
  • Mobile communications (phones, CB radios, walkie talkies)
  • Dielectric heaters for plastic sealing, glue curing, particle & panel board production.
  • Induction heaters for hardening, tempering, forging, etc
  • Microwave ovens
  • Plastic welders

Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Extra Low Frequency (ELF)

  • Power lines & cables
  • Wiring, electric equipment (such as motors)
  • Electronic equipment (eg computers, televisions)

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Measurement

With lower frequency, longer wavelength radiation, the dose is often measured in terms of the strength of the magnetic field, in units of either microtesla (µT) or milligauss (mG), where 1 µT = 10 mG.

What are the health effects of exposure to non-ionising Radiation?

Exposure to EMR can result in a number of adverse health effects. The frequency of the waves, as well as the strength of the fields may all be important factors in determining the effects on health. Some health effects have been well researched and are well established, while others are not.

The energy absorbed by body tissue is responsible for damage done. Generally, high energy radiation (UV and visible light) is absorbed only by the outer layers of the body, while low energy radiation (infrared and microwaves) is absorbed by deep body tissues.

Current research has focussed on the potential health effects of magnetic fields associated with non-ionising radiation, as some studies have suggested increased cancer risk associated with magnetic field exposure.

Ultraviolet (UV)

Eyes:

  • 'Welder's flash or arc eye': inflammation of superficial membranes, cornea and eyelids ("sunburn" of the eyes). The condition is caused by exposure to intense UV radiation, affecting welders, for example.
  • 'welder's flash or arc eye': inflammation of superficial membranes, cornea and eyelids ("sunburn" of the eyes). the condition is caused by exposure to intense uv radiation, affecting welders, for example. 
  • 'Snow blindness': burn to eye caused by sunlight reflected from white surfaces.
  • 'snow blindness': burn to eye caused by sunlight reflected from white surfaces. 
  • Cataracts: clouding of the eye lens. clouding of the eye lens.
  • Pterygia: a growth on the surface of the eye. a growth on the surface of the eye.

Skin:

  • Sunburn, with blistering and swelling if severe;
  • Sun spots, which can turn into cancers;
  • Basal cell carcinomas: the most common type of skin cancer (small, round flattened bumps) cell carcinomas: the most common type of skin cancer (small, round flattened bumps)
  • Melanomas: the most dangerous skin cancer which if not detected early can be fatal. the most dangerous skin cancer which if not detected early can be fatal.

Intense UV can generate ozone gas; this can cause irritation of eye, nose and throat, and headaches.

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Visible light

Visible light is not normally a problem, but where intense (eg in lasers) can potentially cause damage to the cornea and retina of the eye. It can also cause cataracts. Another effect is that pulsing or stroboscopic light can cause fits in susceptible people.

Infrared

  • Burns to the eye, including the retina.
  • Cataracts.
  • Heating of body tissues.
  • Skin burns.

Radiofrequency Fields

There are two main health effects: Thermal and Non-thermal.

Thermal:

An increase of more than 6ºC body's temperature can lead to death. Lower increases can cause heat stroke, brain damage, infertility in men and birth defects. Other possible thermal effects are cataracts and localised burns.

Non-thermal:

The non-thermal effects of RF Fields are not well understood, but headaches, eye strain, fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep disturbance have been reported. More studies are being undertaken as there is a lack of sufficient evidence (for example studies on the effects of mobile phones). However, given the proliferation of RF Fields, there is cause for concern. A number of animal studies have indicated that RF fields cause changes in cells.

RF fields can interfere with pacemakers and other medical implants.

RF fields can also be a safety hazard, as those lower than 100MHz can charge metal and poorly grounded objects, including people. The potential effects include shock, activation of devices, ignition of flammable substances, and interference with electronic equipment.

Very Low Frequency (VLF) and Extra Low Frequency (ELF - 50-60 Hz)

There is increasing concern around the world that exposure to VLF and ELF increases the incidence of a number of cancers. A number of studies have found:

  • increased rates of cancer, in particular leukaemia and brain tumours adults and children living close to power transmission lines (ELF Fields)
  • workers in the electricity supply, electronics and communications industries
  • for workers exposed to electronic equipment such as computers and telephone equipment a possible association between the exposure and effects such as miscarriage and various cancers

Many government agencies both in Australia and overseas do not consider these EMFs a proven health hazard, particularly as there have been insufficient studies undertaken. The problem is that the studies are not consistent and that there are a number of other confusing factors such as smoking and drinking, exposure to other types of radiation and other hazards (such as hazardous substances). Nevertheless, concerns persist - including the possible effects of exposure from even household electrical equipment.

A 2008 study [Residence Near Power Lines and Mortality From Neurodegenerative Diseases: Longitudinal Study of the Swiss Population] led by Martin Röösli at Switzerland's University of Bern reported that people living within 50 meters of a high-voltage power line were more likely to die with Alzheimer's. The longer they lived near a 220-380 kV power line, the greater the risk: After 15 years, the odds of dying with Alzheimer's were double the expected rate. It is this striking dose-response - with the risk increasing over time - that makes the Swiss study compelling.

This new residential study adds to a growing body of work that links Alzheimer's to occupational EMF exposures. In 2007, in a review for the BioInitiative Report, Zoreh Davanipour and Gene Sobel concluded that there is "strong epidemiological evidence" that magnetic fields are a risk factor for Alzheimer's Disease. A further review was done in 2012 and concluded: "Bioeffects are clearly established to occur with very low exposure levels (non-thermal levels) to electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation exposures."

Back in 1994, Davanipour and Sobel were the first to make this association (see Microwave News, J/A94 - downloads as a pdf). Seamstresses who use industrial sewing machines appeared to be particularly vulnerable.

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See Also:

Last amended March 2017

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