The European Parliament and Council on 5 April 2002 adopted Directive 2006/25/EC on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to risks arising from optical radiation during their work. This represents the 19th individual directive within the health and safety Framework Directive 89/391/EEC. The directive defines optical radiation as:
‘any electromagnetic radiation in the wavelength range between 100 nm and 1 mm. The spectrum of optical radiation is divided into ultraviolet radiation, visible radiation and infrared radiation. Ionising radiation like x-rays or gamma rays, electromagnetic fields such as microwaves and radio frequencies are not covered by the directive.’
The exclusion of natural sources of radiation, such as the sun, from the directive was a controversial issue during the legislative process.
The aim of the directive is the prevention and timely detection of any adverse health effects on workers, as well as the prevention of any long-term health risks and any risk of chronic diseases. The directive lays down minimum standards for the prevention and early diagnosis of damage to the eyes and skin from optical radiation, and for the prevention of long-term health risks. It sets exposure limit values and includes provisions on employees’ right to information, training, consultation and health checks.
A key aspect of the preventive approach is the obligation of the employer to adapt working methods to avoid or minimise the duration and level of exposure, to incorporate preventive measures into the design of the workplace and to provide appropriate protective equipment. Adjustments of work processes should take account of technical progress and scientific knowledge to control the risk at source.
The directive stipulates that employers are obliged to carry out risk assessment in line with Articles 6(3) and 9(1) of Directive 89/391/EEC. Where the risk assessment indicates any possibility that the exposure limit values may be exceeded, the employer shall devise and implement an action plan comprising technical and/or organisational measures designed to prevent the exposure exceeding the limit values. Workers who are exposed to risks from artificial optical radiation at work and/or their representatives must receive the necessary information and training relating to the outcome of the risk assessment.
Member States shall adopt provisions to ensure the appropriate health surveillance of workers pursuant to Article 14 of Directive 89/131/EEC. The directive on optical radiation must be implemented by 27 April 2010. It is the last of a series of four directives designed to protect workers from the dangers of physical agents. Previous directives dealt with vibration, noise and electromagnetic fields.