Update: The European Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) Directive

John Totman, DCR(R), M.Sc.

SMRT Policy Board Member
Chair, Publications Committee

Editor’s note: The European Directive has generated much discussion throughout the MRI community globally. SMRT Policy Board Member and Publications Committee Chair, John Totman, shares his view of the directive from the MR Technologists perspective.

The European Physical Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) Directive applies to occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields (not clinical exposure) and was intended to limit workers’ acute exposure to strong electromagnetic fields, as may be found near electricity substations, radio or television transmitters or industrial equipment. However, the regulations impact significantly on MRI, if enforced the use of MRI might be restricted and working practices would need to be changed.

Editor’s note: The following update of the European Directive is written by Stephen Keevil, Ph.D., who represents the UK MRI community in discussions with the UK government and the European Commission about safety and regulatory issues. Dr. Keevil is currently Consultant Physicist, Head of Magnetic Resonance Physics and Research and Development Lead for Imaging at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and Reader in Medical Physics at King’s College London. He is also joint Director of the NICE External Assessment Centre for Imaging Technologies. He is a member of the safety committees of both the International Society for MR in Medicine (ISMRM) and the European Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine and Biology (ESMRMB). He is President Elect of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) and also President of the United Kingdom Radiological Congress (UKRC) for 2012-13.

The situation with the European Directive can be summarised as follows.

In April 2008, the European Parliament and Council agreed to delay implementation of the EMF Directive (2004/40/EC) for two years, until the end of April 2012, because of the possible impact on MRI clinical practice and research. A lengthy period of impact assessment and consultation with stakeholders followed, including detailed and very constructive discussions with the MRI community.

In June 2011, the Commission proposed a new Directive, in which MRI would be removed from the exposure limits and worker safety addressed instead through Europe-wide guidelines on safe working and training requirements. This proposal requires agreement from the European Parliament and Council before it can be adopted. Unfortunately there has been considerable resistance, particularly in the Council, which is made up of representatives of EU member-state governments. Some members’ states are opposed in principle to removing one occupational sector from the exposure limits, and others are not happy that the proposed safe working guidelines have yet to be written. The Commission has therefore proposed a further delay, which is itself currently being considered by the Parliament and Council and is likely to result in an additional 18-24 months in which to resolve the problem. Further details and regular updates can be found at