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Italy: Health and Safety Standards for Workers Exposed to Electromagnetic Fields

(Sept. 13, 2016) On September 2, 2016, new legislation on safety and health risks posed by electromagnetic fields entered into effect in Italy. (Legislative Decree No. 159 of August 1, 2016, Implementing EU Directive 2013/35/UE on the Minimum Safety and Health Standards Related to the Exposure of Workers to Risks Deriving from Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) and Repealing EU Directive 2004/40/CE (L.D. No. 159), GAZETTA UFFICIALE, No. 192 (Aug. 18, 2016), NORMATTIVA (in Italian).)

Protection of Workers from Electromagnetic Effects

L.D. No. 159 sets the minimum protection requirements for workers exposed to risks to their health and safety derived from exposure to electromagnetic fields (for up to 300 GHz). (Id. art. 1(1)(a).) Protective provisions apply both to direct and indirect biophysical effects of the fields on workers. (Id.) To that end, the law creates an indicator called “Maximum Exposure Value” (VLE, in Italian) that reflects the scientific ratio between short-term direct biophysical effects and exposure to electromagnetic fields. (Id.) Personnel working at military installations are subject to separate, specific regulations. (Id.)

Maximum Exposure Limits

L.D. No. 159 sets VLE values based on physical quantities for health, sensory, thermal, and non-thermal effects. (Id. art. 1(1)(c).) When the permitted values are surpassed, companies must file a report with the competent authorities concerning, among other subjects: the reasons for the higher exposure, the level of the exposure beyond the permitted maximums, the number of workers at risk, the measurement techniques utilized, the protection measures adopted, the actions undertaken to treat transitory symptoms, and the information provided by employers to workers about the risks they to which they have been exposed. (Id.)

Risk Assessments, Risk Action Plans, and Monitoring Activities

Employers must perform risk assessments in accordance with guidelines established by the European Commission, the Italian Electro-Technical Committee (CEI, in Italian), the Permanent Consultative Commission created by L.D. No. 159, and the information on use and safety issued by the manufacturers or distributors of the equipment involved. (Id. art. 1(1)(d).)

Employers must also prepare and implement action plans that include technical and organizational measures aimed at preventing exposure to VLEs higher than those allowed for exposure to deleterious sensory and health effects derived from electromagnetic fields. (Id. art. 1(1)(e).) In particular, preventative measures must be established to protect workers belonging to groups that are typically more sensitive to risks posed by biophysical hazards (e.g. handicapped individuals or pregnant women). (Id.)

The law provides that the competent authorities must carry out periodic health monitoring in facilities where exposure to electromagnetic fields exists. (Id. art. 1(1)(g).)

Exemptions from VLE Limits

In limited situations, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies, jointly with the Ministry of Health, may approve substantiated requests of employers to be exempted for a defined period of time from certain VLE values established by L.D. No. 159. (Id. art. 1(1)(h).)