The risks of the very small

There are serious gaps in our awareness of the potential risks involved in
handling nanomaterials at work, and serious shortcomings in the way that those
risks are communicated to workplaces, according to a new literature review from
the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA).

We are facing nanotechnology in our everyday life in many products and
applications. Although health and environmental hazards have been demonstrated
for some manufactured nanomaterials, they are used in food, cosmetics,
textiles, paints, sporting goods, electronics, detergents, and many health and
fitness products. And they are present in many workplaces, too. Currently,
there are over 1,000 consumer products listed, produced by more than 500
companies in 30 countries. 300,000 to 400,000 jobs in the EU deal directly with
nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials are handled in many more
workplaces down the supply chain; 75% of them are small and medium-sized

In its review of current research on the subject, EU-OSHA found that
communication of the potential risks posed by such materials is still poor,
with a majority of Europeans (54%), not even knowing what nanotechnology is.
Even in workplaces where manufactured nanomaterials are found, the level of
awareness is low. For example, 75% of workers and employers in construction are
not aware they work with them.

There are some initiatives to communicate the risks of manufactured
nanomaterials and how to manage these (though not always targeted at the
workplace), for example by major producers, some trade unions, national
dialogues within some Member States, and Europe-wide through the Communication
Roadmap by the European Commission.

But much more still needs to be done (preferably jointly by policymakers, the
social partners, national occupational safety and health bodies, public health
agencies, sectoral associations, etc.) as poor risk communication may generate
confusion and lead to unjustified fears or to underestimation of the risks,
with consequent inadequate risk prevention and control. Risk communication
strategies need to help employers make informed decisions about their
workplaces and put adequate prevention measures in place, and to empower
individual workers to take personal control of their own situations in order to
protect themselves adequately.

EU-OSHA has developed an on-line database of company Good Practice examples of
good workplace management of manufactured nanomaterials which covers eight
Member States and a variety of industries such as textile, construction and
medical applications. Future work on the topic includes a web feature and short
and practical information material on risk management tools for nanomaterials
and for risk management of nanomaterials in maintenance, construction and
health care.

More information - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work