Non-ionizing radiation is described as a series of energy waves composed of oscillating electric and magnetic fields traveling at the speed of light. Non-ionizing radiation includes the spectrum of ultraviolet (UV), visible light, infrared (IR), microwave (MW), radio frequency (RF), and extremely low frequency (ELF). Lasers commonly operate in the UV, visible, and IR frequencies. Non-ionizing radiation is found in a wide range of occupational settings and can pose a considerable health risk to potentially exposed workers if not properly controlled.
Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radiation at 60 HZ is produced by power lines, electrical wiring, and electrical equipment. Common sources of intense exposure include ELF induction furnaces and high-voltage power lines.
Microwave radiation (MW) is absorbed near the skin, while Radiofrequency (RF) radiation may be absorbed throughout the body. At high enough intensities both will damage tissue through heating. Sources of RF and MW radiation include radio emitters and cell phones.
Infrared Radiation (IR)
The skin and eyes absorb infrared radiation (IR) as heat. Workers normally notice excessive exposure through heat sensation and pain. Sources of IR radiation include furnaces, heat lamps, and IR lasers.
Visible Light Radiation
The different visible frequencies of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum are "seen" by our eyes as different colors. Good lighting is conducive to increased production, and may help prevent incidents related to poor lighting conditions. Excessive visible radiation can damage the eyes and skin.
Ultraviolet Radiation (UV)
Ultraviolet radiation (UV) has a high photon energy range and is particularly hazardous because there are usually no immediate symptoms of excessive exposure. Sources of UV radiation include the sun, black lights, welding arcs, and UV lasers.
Lasers typically emit optical (UV, visible light, IR) radiations and are primarily an eye and skin hazard. Common lasers include CO2 IR laser; helium - neon, neodymium YAG, and ruby visible lasers, and the Nitrogen UV laser.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small businesses may contact OSHA's free On-site Consultation services funded by OSHA to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites. To contact free consultation services, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
- Eye and Face Protection. OSHA eTool. Provides a comprehensive hazard assessment, information about selecting protective devices for the workplace, as well as OSHA requirements.
- Optical Radiation: Laser Protection. Discusses the types of personal protective equipment (PPE) that must be used to protect against laser hazards in the workplace.
- Hospital. OSHA eTool. Focuses on some of the hazards and controls found in the hospital setting, and describes standard requirements as well as recommended safe work practices for healthcare workers.
- Surgical Suite Module - Laser Hazards. Recommends solutions for laser hazards in the hospital setting.
- Surgical Suite Module - Smoke Plume. Reports that an estimated 500,000 workers are exposed to laser or electro-surgical smoke each year, including surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgical technologists.