Understanding workplace exposure

Workers may come into contact with nanomaterials at the production stage. However, many more workers may be exposed to nanomaterials at different stages of the use and supply chain, when they handle or use nanomaterials or products containing them. Exposure may therefore occur in a variety of occupational settings and work situations where nanomaterials are used, handled or processed and may consequently become airborne and be inhaled, or come into contact with the skin – for example, in healthcare or laboratory work, or maintenance or construction work.

In some situations, workers – and possibly even their employers – are not aware that they use, handle or process nanomaterials or nanomaterial-containing products and may be exposed to the nanomaterials in question. In such situations, it is unlikely that sufficient measures are being put in place to manage the risks.

Santé publique France, the French national public health agency, has put in place a registry of workers handling manufactured nanomaterials – EpiNano – to monitor the exposure and possibly related health effects of workers exposed to carbon nanotubes, titanium dioxide, silicon dioxide and carbon black in facilities producing or using these.

Some sector-specific advice on how to manage the risks of nanomaterials are available. EU-OSHA has produced brief e-facts about exposure to nanomaterials and prevention in the healthcare sector and in maintenance work. Other organisations have also produced useful sector-specific information, for example:

  • Construction sector: Guides and tools for the construction sector produced in the scope of the EU-funded project SCAFFOLD, on innovative strategies, methods and tools for occupational risks management of manufactured nanomaterials in the construction industry.
  • Furniture sector: Information produced in the context of the European social dialogue between workers and employers in the furniture sector, the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), the European Furniture Manufacturers Federation (UEA) and the European Furniture Industries Federation (EFIC).