Exposure limits are not yet legal standards because these are not specific enough and are not binding. In order to be specific, the exposure limits must be converted to standards for actual practical situations (for products such as a mobile telephone or for installations such as transmission towers). The limits must be adopted in the regulation to be binding.
From recommendations to standards
The exposure limits that are recommended by scientific committees of experts, such as the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), constitute the basis for the regulation in the European Union.
The recommendation of the Council 1999/519/EC of 12th July 1999 deals with radio waves, electric and magnetic fields of extremely low frequencies and static electric and magnetic fields. This recommendation relates to the exposure of the general population to the electromagnetic radiation that originates from installations such as transmission towers and high-voltage lines and from products such as mobile telephones and microwave ovens.
The recommendation is not binding. As far as the radiation that originates from fixed installations is concerned, the member states are authorised to establish a regulation. They can decide themselves whether to observe or deviate from the exposure limits recommended by Europe.
On the other hand, the implementation of a product policy vests with a European authority. All products that are launched on the European market must comply with the European directives. The EU product policy with regard to product safety and health is based on the scientific recommendations and recommendations of the Council.
EU product policy regarding electromagnetic radiation
Product safety is one of the requirements of the EU product policy. Not a single product may pose a danger to the health and safety of the user (and other people). That is why the transmitting power of products is restricted by law. Other reasons play a role in this as well, such as the occurrence of risks of interference and efficient use of the radio spectrum.
• Risks of interference
The proper functioning of an electronic device such as the radio, TV or remote control can be disrupted by electromagnetic radiation emitted by another device. The regulation regarding the electromagnetic compatibility provides that devices must not cause interferences in their environment. They must also be able to function normally in electromagnetic fields up to a certain level (in other words, they must be "immune").
• Use of the radio spectrum
The radio spectrum (or the entirety of air frequencies) is naturally restricted. That is why the use thereof is strictly regulated with regard to the radio frequencies to be used and the permitted transmitting power.
These aspects are elaborated in specific directives:
• R&TTE directive
Devices that use radio waves, such as mobile telephones, wireless telephones (DECT), network equipment, must comply with the European directive 1999/5/EC, better known as the R&TTE directive (R&TTE stands for "Radio and Telecommunications Terminal Equipment").
• Low-voltage directive
Electrical devices that work on the electricity grid need to be in accordance with the directive 2006/95/EC, known as the low-voltage directive.
• EMC directive
All fixed installations and devices need to be in conformity with the directive 2004/108/EC, known as the EMC directive (EMC stands for "electromagnetic compatibility").
The directives are implemented in national legislation by the member states. The implementation also contains a description of the verification procedure and the authorities that are responsible for the implementation.
Where can you find actual threshold values and measurement procedures?
The European product-related directives contain no actual threshold values but only fundamental requirements: products must be safe, must not cause electromagnetic interferences and must use the radio spectrum purposefully. These fundamental requirements are clarified in the harmonised European standards: this is where you can find actual measurement procedures and criteria.
The list of the applicable standards can be found on the website of the Directorate general Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs”, for every industrial sector and directive separately. The texts of the standards can be consulted at the Belgian Institute for Standardisation.
European policy regarding safety of employees
The European policy for the safety of employees is based on scientific recommendations. The directive 2004/40/EC limits health risks associated with electromagnetic radiation on the shop floor. The FPS Employment, Labour and Social Dialogue follows the application of this directive.