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What are electromagnetic fields?

Operating the energy networks involves exposure to electric and magnetic fields, also known as EMFs. These are generated wherever there are currents or voltages.

Looking up at an electricity pylon

The question of whether electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are linked in any way to ill-health is a long-standing debate for which there is no scientifically conclusive answer. The final decision on safe levels of exposure rest with the government and is subject to advice from the Health Protection Agency and international governing bodies.

Detailed research over many years has been conducted on the effects of EMFs, and the industry continues to manage a Cohort Study of past exposure to workers.

Reports of electromagnetic field issues are valuable as they can also sometimes be useful indicators of other network problems. Network personnel who deal with electromagnetic field issues will vary from company to company, depending on whether electromagnetic field issues are dealt with by call-centre staff, general engineers, or smaller dedicated teams.

We place a strong importance on the assessment of any potential risk to health from the operation of its networks. We are committed to providing members of the public and the industry’s employees with comprehensive information on the issue, including the findings from the latest international research.

If you have any questions, you will find the website and EMFs Fact Sheet as useful references.

  • EU Directive

    The EU passed a Directive on occupational exposure to EMFs in 2013. The Directive is closely based on the guidelines published by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and, in the case of power frequencies, ICNIRP 2010.

    EU Legislation provides a three-year period for Member States to bring the new requirements into effect. Requirements came into effect in the UK on 1 July 2016 and was implemented through the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations 2016.

  • EMF exposure limits from July 2016

    New EMF occupational exposure limits for EMFs were enforced in the UK on 1 July 2016.

    Visit the Compliance of the UK electricity system with EMF exposure limits page for the UK electricity industry’s formal public statement of compliance with exposure limits.

    National Grid and ENA provide a lead for the rest of the electricity industry via the EMF Strategy Committee, which ensures all industry information is made available to companies and the public.

    The industry has produced an Employee EMF Information Sheet (available in our Resource library) to raise staff awareness.

  • Risk assessment

    The ENA EMF Strategy Committee has developed a risk assessment on the application of the new Regulations.

    The industry maintains a single Risk Assessment document (available here in our Publications Library) that contains all the available information for each different plant item or work practice. This Risk Assessment encompasses generation aspects (managed by Energy UK) as well as transmission and distribution (managed by ENA).

  • Government and electricity industry management principles

    A number of sources of information are available that set out the principles adopted by government and the electricity industry for the management of EMFs. These are available in our Resource library.

  • Exposure limits

    All UK electricity systems comply with the exposure limits in force in the UK, and, as an additional precautionary measure, with a national policy of optimum phasing of overhead lines. The details of these are set out in three Codes of Practice agreed with Government and can be found on the BEIS website.

    The industry also publishes detailed evidence of compliance (available in our Resource library) with the exposure limits.

  • EMF research

    We are committed to supporting high-quality independent research to increase understanding of EMF issues.

    Reports of EMF issues are valuable as they can also sometimes be useful indicators of other network problems. Network personnel who deal with EMF issues will vary from company to company, depending on whether EMF issues are dealt with by call-centre staff, general engineers, or smaller dedicated teams.

    CEGB cohort of UK electricity industry workers

    The UK electricity industry supports research into the health of its own workers. A database has been set up of everyone who worked for the then Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) in the late 1970s.

    Over 80,000 people are traced to identify the cause of death when they eventually die. New techniques have been developed for assessing people’s exposure to magnetic fields over their working life. It is then possible to see whether the cause of death is linked to exposure to magnetic fields.

    A major expansion of the use of this cohort is the decision in 2009 to also start collecting data on cancer incidence, not just on causes of death.

    For many years, the electricity supply industry has given technical and financial support to this study into the long-term health of employees of the CEGB, and anyone who was employed by the CEGB before 1982 is likely to be a participant.

    This study is now carried out at the University of Birmingham to the highest of ethical standards, including compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018.

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