Non-ionising radiation safety

Non-ionising radiation (NIR) is radiation that doesn't possess sufficient energy to cause ionisation of atoms or molecules. However, it still can interact with people, equipment and substances and cause immediate and long-term health and safety effects. The standards explain how you can safely manage these sources:

Wavelengths covered by the standards

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the range 100nm to 400nm. It can be further sub-divided into: UV-A (315 to 400nm), UV-B (280 to 315nm) and UV-C (100 to 280nm).
  • Visible radiation in the range 400 to 700nm. Any optical radiation capable of directly causing a visual sensation in the human eye.
  • Infrared (IR) radiation in the range 700nm to 1mm.
  • Microwaves (wavelengths 1mm to 1m) and radio waves (wavelengths 1mm to 100,000km)
  • Electromagnetic fields with frequencies up to 300GHz.

Harmful effects

Even though NIR cannot cause ionisation in materials, it can cause health effects. These effects can be varied and include:

  • visual disruption (flash blindness)
  • photokeratitis (milky white cornea), cataract, corneal burns (arc eye)
  • thermal (burning) and photochemical damage to the retina
  • erythema (sunburn), accelerated skin aging, increased skin pigmentation and skin cancers
  • photosensitive skin reaction and skin burn

EMF can interfere with electronic devices in the body, for example, pacemakers. In addition, medical devices, such as artificial limbs and broken bone fixation devices can experience localised heating. EMF interaction with people may cause localised temperature increases in body tissue. Microwaves can cause heating in the body.

Workplace sources

A workplace source is a piece of equipment or a work activity that produces non-ionising radiation in the wavelengths listed above or produces significant electromagnetic fields. In the case of sunlight, the source is the sun and prolonged exposure to sunlight is the hazardous activity. Sources become dangerous when someone, or something, interacts with the radiation for a period of time that can cause harm or unsafe conditions.

The departmental non-ionising radiation protection adviser (DNIRPA) or the University non-ionising radiation protection adviser (UNIRPA) can help you identify your sources.


Managing the risk from your sources

If you are responsible for managing equipment, work activities, research or teaching activities that use or could expose people to NIR you need to ensure the risks are adequately controlled. Refer to the relevant standards for further information on how to manage the risks from your source. Specialist safety advisers and officersSpecialist safety advisers and officersSpecialist safety advisers and officers can advise you on how to do this.

The Health and Safety Policy should be consulted for your full responsibilities and for research activities the University and Colleges Employers Association guide on responsible research (.pdf) should be followed.

Heads of department

You have overall responsibility for ensuring your department complies with standards relating to the control of NIR risks arising from work or study. You must appoint a DNIRPA where there are high risk lasers, AOR or EMF sources.

Academic supervisors

You are responsible for the safety of staff and students whilst they are under their supervision, which includes ensuring that they understand the health and safety risks associated with academic activities and follow health and safety instructions.

In relation to work with NIR sources, you are responsible for ensuring that the University’s standards are implemented in your area of responsibility.

Principal investigators

You are responsible for the health and safety management of your research projects and must ensure NIR sources are assessed during the planning of the project and kept under review throughout.

You are also responsible for the health and safety of research staff you line manage and research students under your supervision during the research project.

Line managers

You are responsible for the implementation of relevant NIR standards in your area of control and the health and safety of staff you line manage.

NIR users

You are responsible for following health and safety measures put in place to protect you from exposure from NIR sources. If you are unsure whether you work with or could be exposed to a NIR source, your line manager, DNIRPA or UNIRPA can help advise you.

Departmental non-ionising radiation protection adviser (DNIRPA) 

You provide advice on the purchase and safe management of sources that present a significant risk to health. You ensure such equipment is used in accordance with statutory requirements, the University’s standards and local rules.

University non-ionising radiation protection adviser (UNIRPA)

You coordinate the development and review of University-wide standards on the safe management of lasers and other non-ionising radiation sources.

Also see

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