Physical Agents

A number of European Directives control the exposure of workers to potentially damaging physical agents in the workplace such as explosive atmospheres, vibration, noise, electromagnetic fields, optical radiation and ionizing radiation. These Directives (see list below) lay down minimum requirements for worker protection and are adopted under framework Directive 89/391/EEC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers.

Risk of explosive atmospheres

Directive 1999/92/EC on minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres requires the employer to take technical and/or organisational measures to prevent the formation of explosive atmospheres, prevent the ignition of explosive atmospheres, and reduce the effects of an explosion in such a way that workers are not at risk. The employer must ensure that a health and safety protection document, describing explosion protection measures is prepared and kept up to date.

Exposure to mechanical vibration

Mechanical vibration poses a potential risk to workers as it may give rise to musculoskeletal, neurological and vascular disorders. A specific Directive (2002/44/EC) sets out to improve worker protection of workers against the risks involved and lays down minimum health and safety requirements. The Directive addresses two different types of vibration: vibration which, when transmitted to the human hand-arm system, entails risks to the health and safety of workers (in particular vascular, bone or joint, neurological or muscular disorders), and vibration which, when transmitted to the whole body, entails risks to the health and safety of workers (in particular lower-back morbidity and trauma of the spine).

The Directive sets exposure limit values and exposure ‘action values’ above which employers must take measures.

Exposure to noise

Exposure to noise, and notably risks to hearing, is dealt with under Directive 2003/10/EC where the exposure limit value is fixed at 87 decibels (taking into account the attenuation provided by the individual hearing protectors worn by the workers) and the exposure action values are fixed at 80 decibels (lower value) and 85 decibels (upper value).

The employer must assess and, if necessary, measure the levels of noise to which workers are exposed. The results of this assessment must be recorded on a suitable medium and kept up to date on a regular basis. If the risks arising from exposure to noise cannot be prevented by other means, properly fitting individual hearing protectors must be made available to workers.

Electromagnetic fields

The European Parliament and the Council of the EU have recently adopted Directive 2012/11/EU amending Directive 2004/40/EC on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents (electromagnetic fields).

The Directive lays down two types of value for exposure of workers: ‘exposure limit values’ (frequencies that are recognised as having harmful effects on the human cardiovascular system or the central nervous system) and ‘action values’, or values above which employers must take measures specified in the Directive.

The new directive does not substantially amend the previous Directive 2004/40/EC except Article 13(1) on Transposition and extends the deadline for transposition until 31 October 2013.

Exposure to artificial optical radiation

In certain activities workers may be exposed to artificial optical radiation from, for example, laser equipment or UVA which can have chronic adverse effects on the eyes and skin. It is covered by Directive 2006/25/EC.

Dangers arising from ionising radiation

This area falls under the provisions of the Euratom Treaty. Issues relating to the protection of the health of workers and the public against the dangers arising from ionising radiation are dealt with under a specific Directive 96/29/Euratom. This Directive is currently under revision. The proposal COM(2011) 593 was published by the Commission on 29.09.2011. IMA Member companies are generally not concerned by radiation except in certain underground mines where there could be presence of radon.