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workers, building, architect

NORA Manufacturing Sector Strategic Goals

927ZJKUa - Authoritative Recommendations on Managing Workplace EMF (PHP)

Start Date: 10/1/2009
End Date: 9/30/2012

Principal Investigator (PI)
Name: Joseph Bowman
Phone: 513-533-8143
Organization: NIOSH
Sub-Unit: DART
Funded By: NIOSH

Primary Goal Addressed

Secondary Goal Addressed


Attributed to Manufacturing


Project Description

Short Summary

This project will provide evidence-based recommendations for managing workplace EMF, especially those from AC electricity. Towards this end, NIOSH research will identify cost-effective methods of evaluating EMF exposures and preventing their possible health risks, especially cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and neurological effects. Improved methods for measuring compliance with exposure guidelines for power-frequency EMF will also be developed. New NIOSH documents and research updates will be published on the possible health risks from occupational EMF and how workplace exposures can be managed to protect the public health. This project is part of NIOSH's programs on engineering controls, exposure assessment, economics and authoritative recommendations, targeted especially to the manufacturing sector.


The occupational health goals are to protect workers from:

  • acute neurological disturbances, which have been firmly established with high exposures;
  • possible risks of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, which have been associated with much lower occupational EMF in epidemiologic studies.

This comprehensive NIOSH policy on EMF would cover both health issues by:

  • adopting as NIOSH's Recommended Exposure Limits (RELs) one of the EMF exposure guidelines which consensus groups [e.g. ACGIH, 2006 or IEEE, 2002] have set to protect against neurologic disturbances;
  • recommending low-cost precautionary reductions in the workplace magnetic fields which have been associated with significantly-elevated cancer risks;
  • recommending a system of qualitative "control bands" that identify the appropriate control measures for common EMF sources. The policy would also specify when the effectiveness of the controls derived from the bands should be verified by exposure measurements;
  • making the economic case to employers for implementing precautionary recommendations.

NIOSH would develop these policies with the Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands, based on a RIVM study of EMF control measures [Bolte and Pruppers, 2006] and a NIOSH risk assessment [Bowman et al., 2008]. Dr. Tapas Ray will make the business case for precautionary reductions in workplace EMF, based on economic analyses of precautionary measures for environmental hazards like global warming. Drafts of these control bands would be tested at workplaces in both countries during the evaluations (see below), and the lessons learned will be incorporated into the final Current Intelligence Bulletin (CIB).

In FY10, the project's FY10 goals are:

  • Develop a protocol with RIVM and the University of Utrecht for measuring workplace EMF, identifying cost-effective control measures, and evaluating their effectiveness.
  • Recruit workplaces to participate in these intervention studies, and begin collecting data.
  • Submit a concept memo for a Current Intelligence Bulletin (CIB) on managing occupational exposures to power-frequency EMF.
  • Conduct focus groups with industrial hygienists on the proposed recommendations and the business case for taking precautionary measures.


This project's primary goal is providing NIOSH with a comprehensive set of policy documents and websites on occupational EMF. To improve the effectiveness of these recommendations, we will use health communication principles to produce reports and other materials on the EMF control bands, develop a dissemination strategy, and collect data on their effectiveness. The ultimate impact will be preventing some of the 1,000 brain cancers and 2,100 leukemias which are possibly attributable each year to occupational EMF exposures.

We will evaluate the effectiveness of these recommendations by implementing them in a sample of workplaces recruited by our partners in the U.S. and the Netherlands. At selected EMF sources, worker exposure will be measured before and after work practices have been changed. If engineering controls are needed to comply with the EMF exposure limits, their impact will be modeled with validation against present exposure measurements. These changes in EMF exposures can be converted into possible cancers prevented with our risk assessment. Finally, we will survey these workplaces at the end of the project to assess their long-term adoption. The lessons learned from these evaluations will be published as a basis for future improvements in NIOSH's EMF policies and public information materials.