Over the last few weeks in March (2013), there was a sudden burst of health and safety reports and initiatives released by Safe Work Australia, the European Commission’s Nanodevice project, and the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, respectively.
According to a Mar. 19, 2013 news item on Nanowerk, Safe Work Australia released two reports (Note: Links have been removed),
Safe Work Australia Chair Ann Sherry AO today released two research reports examining nanotechnology work health and safety issues.
The reports: Investigating the emissions of nanomaterials from composites and other solid articles during machining process and Evaluation of potential safety (physicochemical) hazards associated with the use of engineered nanomaterials are part of a comprehensive program of work on nanotechnology safety managed by Safe Work Australia which started in 2007.
The March 18, 2013 Safe Work Australia media release, which originated the news item, provides some information about the approaches and models being used to analyse and develop policies,
In releasing the reports Ms Sherry noted the perceived safety risks of nanomaterials and that a precautionary approach is being taken by the Commonwealth towards nanomaterials under the National Enabling Technologies Strategy.“
While the risk to human health and safety from a number of these materials and applications is low some nanomaterials are potentially more hazardous, for example carbon nanotubes,” Ms Sherry said.
“The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) has recommended carbon nanotubes be classified as suspected carcinogens unless product-specific evidence suggests otherwise.”
Under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws all duties which apply to the handling of materials and to technologies in general also apply to nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. Minimisation of exposure to nanomaterials at work is essential until there is sufficient data to rule out hazardous properties. Research has shown if conventional engineering controls are designed and maintained effectively, exposure to nanomaterials can be significantly reduced.
As a result of the findings of these reports Safe Work Australia will prepare guidance material on combustible dust hazards including nanomaterials.
Here’s more about the reports (from their respective webpages),
Investigating the emissions of nanomaterials from composites and other solid articles during machining processes
This report by CSIRO considers the potential health risk of emissions from machining processes.
The report finds that significant quantities of material, which can present health risk, are emitted from composites by high energy machining processes like cutting with an electric disc saw or band saw. If the composite contains a hazardous nanomaterial, the health risk from the dust may be higher. Lower energy processes like manual cutting will result in lower exposures and lower potential health risk.
Evaluation of potential safety hazards associated with the use of engineered nanomaterials
This report by Toxikos Pty Ltd examines safety hazards associated with engineered nanomaterials and the implications in regard to workers safety.
The report finds that dust clouds of some engineered nanomaterials could give rise to strong explosions if the dust cloud contains a high enough concentration of nanomaterials and if an ignition source is also present. The report gives examples of these. However in a well-managed workplace, emissions from nanotechnology processes will be very significantly below the minimum dust concentration needed for an explosion.
A Mar. 20, 2013 news item on Nanowerk focused on the European Commission’s Nanodevice project,
European researchers in the Nanodevice project are investigating the safety aspects of nanomaterial production. Their plan laid down in 2009 was to develop new concepts, reliable methods and portable devices for detecting, analysing and monitoring airborne ENMs in the workplace. The latest feedback from the team suggests the project has delivered on its promise.
The project has concluded work on seven new ‘nanodevices’, which have been calibrated and tested for use in work environments exposed to nanoparticles. This work, alongside findings from materials studies and research into the association between ENM properties and their biological impacts, will appear in a new nanosafety handbook, called “Safe handling of manufactured nanomaterials: particle measurement exposure assessment and risk management”.
Complex research like this calls for an integrated, multidisciplinary approach,” confirms Nanodevice’s project leader, Dr Kai Savolainen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.
What makes this particular health and safety project special is the focus on affordable monitoring for small and medium-size companies,
With affordable, portable equipment, even small companies can regularly measure their workers’ exposure to potentially harmful particles. When compared with a growing body of data from other workplaces, a more accurate assessment of risk and occupational health and safety emerges.
Prior to Nanodevice’s portable solutions, regular nanosafety checks could cost up to €200 000. The instrumentation hauled in from outside weighed hundreds of kilos and needed several experts to gather and analyse data from multiple sites. Big companies could afford this, but Europe’s important SME sector struggled with the cost.
“We’ve developed devices like a personal nanoparticle monitor for less than €200 that almost any company can afford and quickly learn to use,” says Dr Savolainen. Worn by a worker, the system collects exposure information, but needs to be plugged into a computer to download the data. This is not ideal, so Nanodevice is keen to develop this into a real-time sensing and monitoring device linked to the internet and databases.
“Today, lack of ‘big’ accurate data makes it hard to know if exposure values are too low,” explains Dr Savolainen, “so our work helps the scientific community build a large database on exposure levels in the working environment.” This means companies, regulators and stakeholders will have access to reliable information from which to base risk-assessment decisions and develop standards for occupational exposure levels for different types of ENMs.
“Thanks to our work, the ‘big picture’ is that people won’t have to be concerned about lack of information on exposure levels. This reduces uncertainty about ENM safety and fosters more innovation in nanosciences in general,” he concludes.
You can find out more about the Nanodevice project here.
Finally, the UK’s Health and Safety Executive released a guidance (I think we’d call them guidelines here in Canada) according to a Mar. 28, 2013 news item on Nanowerk (Note: A link has been removed),
The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has released a new guidance (“Using nanomaterials at work”; pdf)that describes how to control occupational exposure to manufactured nanomaterials in the workplace. It will help you understand what you need to do to comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) (as amended) when you work with these substances.
There’s more information about the guidance on the Using nanomaterials at work webpage where you can also find the document,
If you work with nanomaterials this guidance will help you protect your employees. If you run a medium-sized or large business, where decisions about controlling hazardous substances are more complex, you may also need professional advice. This guidance will also be useful for trade union and employee health and safety representatives.
This guidance is specifically about the manufacture and manipulation of all manufactured nanomaterials, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and other bio-persistent high aspect ratio nanomaterials (HARNs). It has been prepared in response to emerging evidence about the toxicity of these materials.
The control principles described can be applied to all nanomaterials used in the workplace. Any differences in the approach between control of CNTs and other bio-persistent HARNs to any other type of nanomaterials are highlighted in the text.
For anyone who wants a direct link to the guidance, go here.