The use of nanomaterials at the workplace

 

Nanomaterials are produced and used by many European industries, including chemicals manufacturing. The production and use of these materials are governed by both EU-wide regulation as well as national legislation. Employers must make sure that workers have both the knowledge and equipment to use these materials safely.  

As nanotechnology is used to produce a wide range of products and solutions, many workers may be exposed to them in their workplace. Nanomaterials are often produced in closed systems, but exposure may occur during maintenance or handling of finished products.

Nanomaterials are also used by ‘downstream industries’ such as the automotive industry, cosmetics, electronics, medicines, medical technology and textile manufacturing. When nanomaterials are used as pigments, for example, in an industrial spray application, exposure cannot be excluded. Therefore, such use may carry a recommendation for ventilation or the use of personal protective equipment such as gloves. However, this may not be sufficient to ensure safe use and therefore, there are also legal requirements stating that workers must be given the appropriate education to be able to carry out their work in a safe manner.

Using nanomaterials at the workplace does not mean that there is a risk, or that the risk cannot be controlled.

Risk is the result of hazard x exposure. The hazardous properties of a nanomaterial are determined by its chemical composition and physical properties, such as size, shape, and crystal structure and its (eco)toxicological effects.

Currently, it is suspected that some types of nanomaterials, such as long rigid fibres that remain in the lungs, may have the potential to cause fibrosis and/or inflammation. In contrast, healthy skin seems to be relatively resistant, also to nano-sized particles. If nanomaterials could be persistent in the body, this adds to their potential to cause harm.