Ensure safe use of nanomaterials at the workplace

Exposure to nanomaterials depends on the process, the technical control measures deployed and, if these are not sufficient, the use of personal protective equipment. Employers must minimise exposure to hazardous substances to a level that is assessed to not cause harm to workers.

As inhalation seems to be the most relevant route of occupational exposure for nanomaterials,  the generation of any airborne nanomaterials at the workplace should be minimised. This can be achieved by using closed system working environments and wet processes. Dust-generating process steps such as grinding and abrasion should be avoided to the extent possible.

If nanoparticles are in the air of the workplace, adequate ventilation needs to be deployed. As a last resort, workers can be trained to use respiratory protective equipment, protective clothing, gloves, and goggles.

It should be noted that typically in maintenance operations, the normal risk management measures for the process, such as a closed systems, are temporarily disabled. Therefore, additional risk management measures may be needed for these types of process.

Self-employed professionals may not have the possibility for such rigorous controls in their work compared to those operating in industrial settings.


Safety data sheets (SDSs)

In accordance with the REACH Regulation, a safety data sheet (SDS) must be supplied with any hazardous chemical. Safety data sheets provide useful information on chemicals, describing the hazards the chemical presents, and giving information on handling, storage and emergency measures in case of an accident. REACH requires users of hazardous chemicals to follow the advice on risk management measures given in the exposure scenarios attached to the SDS, where provided.


Some nanomaterials have national occupational exposure limit values

Occupational exposure limit (OEL) values for hazardous substances are important information for risk assessment and management, also in the context of nanomaterials.

An exposure limit is the concentration – either in parts per million (ppm) or milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3) – of a chemical in the workplace air to which most people can be exposed without experiencing harmful effects. However, the OELs should not be taken as sharp dividing lines between safe and unsafe exposures.

Currently, there are no OELs at EU level for nanomaterials, most likely due to the fact that there is still a lack of information to detemine them. In general, EU-wide OELs have only been set for a limited number of substances currently used in the workplace. Those binding and/or indicative limit values are laid down in EU directives.

Many Member States have established their own national OELs, also for nanomaterials. These national limits must be equally respected and any employer must ensure that exposure of their employees does not exceed the OELs.