Worker protection

Worker with hard hat

EU legislation on worker protection applies to chemicals and therefore also to nanomaterials, although it does not refer explicitly to these materials. Of particular relevance are the Framework Directive 89/391/EEC, the Chemical Agent Directive 98/24/EC, and the Carcinogen and Mutagen Directive 2004/37/EC, as well as the REACH and CLP regulations. It means that by law employers are required to assess and manage the risks of chemicals, including nanomaterials, at work. Then, actions should be taken to remove or reduce the risks as far as possible. The first measures to consider are elimination of the risk or substitution to less hazardous materials and processes. If these are not possible, worker exposure must be minimised through prevention following the hierarchy of control measures, which gives priority to:

  1. technical control measures at the source;
  2. organisational measures; and
  3. personal protective equipment, be considered only as a last resort.

The situation should be monitored and the effectiveness of the steps taken regularly reviewed.

Although many uncertainties remain, there are concerns about the safety and health hazards of nanomaterials. Therefore, employers together with workers should apply a precautionary approach to risk management and the choice of prevention measures.