New nanotechnology safety papers

Safe Work Australia has released two research papers concerning safety sisues raised by nanotechnology.

An Evaluation of MSDS and Labels associated with the Use of Engineered Nanomaterials

Safe Work Australia advises that

“This report details findings from an evaluation of 50 Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and 15 labels for products containing engineered nanomaterials. Key findings in the report include:

UV sunscreens and nanoparticle risks

Most of the discussion about the safety of nanoparticles is split in to the consumer end use of the products or the occupational hazards of their manufacture.  Safety managers, however, need to look at the potential risks of nanoparticles from consumer products that are used in the workplace.  New Australian research again focuses on sunscreens. Continue reading “UV sunscreens and nanoparticle risks”

Okay, I don’t smell but am I safe?

King Gee recently released a range of work clothing that is manufactured using a technique that reduces the wearer’s body odour.   A sample was sent to SafetyAtWorkBlog unrequested.   For those tradespeople with a body odour issue, the clothing may be a godsend, maybe more so for the people they have to work with.   The new clothing has received at least one media mention.

The issue that has stopped me from wearing the sample shirt is that the “odour-killing” properties are due to a process of:

“…. engineering molecules at the nanoscale …[that] transforms the very fibers of the fabric to provide unsurpassed odour elimination.”

Nanotechnology is a recent technology that is being applied widely but without a detailed consideration of the possible health effects to the user, the environment and to those who manufacture nano-materials. Continue reading “Okay, I don’t smell but am I safe?”

New Australian discussion paper on nanotechnology

Nanotechnology research papers are often very technical and highly unlikely to discuss the occupational health and safety impacts of the technology’s use.  The papers often rely on someone else to explain the relevance of the research.

But on 24 November 2009, Dr Fern Wickson of the University of Bergen spoke in Brisbane about nanotechnology challenges and released a discussion paper entitled “What you should know about nano“.

According to an accompanying media release from The Australia Institute Dr Wickson’s paper included several recommendations:

  • Mandatory reporting on all products containing nanotubes and other nanomaterials
  • A parliamentary inquiry into nanoST
  • Health surveillance and environmental monitoring of high potential exposures
  • Adopting a precautionary approach to the commercialisation of the technology in cases where the potential for harm has been demonstrated, significant uncertainties remain and social benefits appear marginal.

The reasons for the recommendations are explained in the paper but the paper is, refreshingly, intended to

“…introduce and engage its audience in the experiment that is nanoscale sciences and technologies, particularly from the perspectives of consumer and environmental protection and occupational health and safety.”

The links and footnotes are excellent sources of original research material including the recently released (but not available online without a fee) paper

Bergamaschi, E (2009). ‘Occupational exposure to nanomaterials: present knowledge and future development’, Nanotoxicology, 3:3, pp. 194–201.

Enrico Bergamaschi’s research paper, according to an abstract, recommends that

“…given the limited amount of information about the health risks associated with occupational exposure to engineered NP, the precautionary principle suggests to take measures to minimize worker exposures. Implementing appropriate engineering controls, using personal protective equipment, establishing safe handling procedures, together to monitor worker’s health, are all strategic elements of a risk management programme at workplace.”

Plenty to read and even more to think on.

Kevin Jones

EHS workshop report and Australian nanoparticles reports

In October 2009 a workshop was held on worker safety by the  Worker Education and Training Program (WETP), a part of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.  Many of the topics raised in the workshop – REACH, Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals, and nanotechnology would be issues or hazards familiar to most SafetyAtWorkBlog readers.

EffectivenessReport coverThis report on the workshop, released in November 2009, is highlighted here because it is a very good example of a basic report on a workshop that makes the reader regret that they couldn’t be there.  This respond encourages readers to make the extra effort for the next set of workshops – a major benefit of such reports and, sometimes, the main reason.

The mention 0f nanotechnology is a good link to two new reports on the issue released by Safe Work Australia on 4 November 2009.

Engineered nanomaterials: Evidence on the effectiveness of workplace controls “explores the effectiveness of workplace controls to prevent exposure to engineered nanomaterials.”  According to a media release on the reports this report found:

  • “current control and risk management methods can protect workers from exposure to engineered nanomaterials
  • enclosure of processes involving nanomaterials and correctly designed and installed extraction ventilation can both significantly reduce worker exposure to nanomaterials, and
  • a precautionary approach is recommended for handling nanomaterials in the workplace.”

Pages from ToxicologyReview_Nov09The lack of available health effects data has directly led to the precautionary position in recommendations but it is good to see that the hierarchy of controls (old technology) is being applied to new technology. The report gets to a point of recommending a combination of

“…controls [that] should provide a robust regime through which nanomaterials exposure to workers will be reduced to very low levels.”

The bibliography in this report is also excellent and includes a comparative table of the research reports and papers analysed.

Engineered nanomaterials: A review of toxicology and health hazards was a literature review that  reports:

  • “there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that engineered nanomaterials have a unique toxicity. However, sufficient toxicity tests have not yet been conducted for most engineered nanomaterials
  • nanoparticles tend to be more bio-reactive, and hence potentially more toxic, than larger particles of the same material, and
  • carbon nanotubes are potentially hazardous to health if inhaled in sufficient quantity.”

Nanotechnology is a difficult area of OHS study as there is so much research material coming through that it is (probably more than) a full-time job just to stay current.  The literature review into toxicology makes a point that it is important to remember in this field.

“A wide variety of in vitro and in vivo experimental protocols have been used to assess biological responses to NPs, some of these yield more useful data for occupational risk assessment than others.  Some are potentially misleading.” [emphasis added]

The second of these reports was a good introduction to the general issues of health risks but must be stressed that these reports deal with engineered nanoparticle(s) (ENPs) which are defined as

“A nanoparticle with at least one dimensions between approximately 1 nm and 100 nm and manufactured to have specific properties or composition. “

Increasing research into any issue almost always leads to a fragmentation of the discipline into subsets.  That research into engineered nanoparticles is different from regular nanoparticles needs to be remembered.  As the report itself says

“…the major thrust of the research is in relation to identifying potential hazards for assessment of occupational safety since working with ENPs is likely to be where most exposure occurs. In contrast to ambient particulate air pollution, where health effects have been observed and research has been aimed at discovering the causative agents and mechanisms, the reverse is true for ENPs.”

Tom Phillips AM, chair of the Safe Work Australia Council said , in a media statement,

“Safe Work Australia has requested that the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme undertake a formal assessment of carbon nanotubes for hazard classification to clarify regulation of these nanomaterials.

“We have also requested that CSIRO develop guidance for the safe handling and disposal of carbon nanotubes, which will be a useful resource for OHS managers.”

It is good to see Safe Work Australia (now an independent statutory body) take one of the ACTU recommendations from its 2009 factsheet.

Kevin Jones

Evidence of heart attacks due to secondhand smoke

According to a media release from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in the United States, a new research report says:

“Smoking bans are effective at reducing the risk of heart attacks and heart disease associated with exposure to secondhand smoke, says a new report from the Institute of Medicine.  The report also confirms there is sufficient evidence that breathing secondhand smoke boosts nonsmokers’ risk for heart problems, adding that indirect evidence indicating that even relatively brief exposures could lead to a heart attack is compelling.”

iStock_000008022857Large match lowThe report claims to have undertaken “a comprehensive review of published and unpublished data and testimony on the relationship between secondhand smoke and short-term and long-term heart problems”.  It has looked at “animal research and epidemiological studies” and “data on particulate matter in smoke from other pollution source”.

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which has summarised the report on a new webpage.  SafetyAtWorkBlog has been unable to obtain a copy of the full report.

The report is unlikely to help those safety professionals who need to control the hazard of secondhand smoke in the workplace.  Legislation has been in some States of America for over thirty years identifying where people cannot smoke and around the world the major control measures are moving smokers outside and encouraging them to quit.

The IOM report seems to confirm the seriousness of the issue but provides no new ideas for control.  This would be like producing a new research report that says mercury, lead or asbestos are harmful – like duh?

US OSHA provides some data on legislative interventions on tobacco smoke but new information on this hazard in the workplace setting is thin.  The US Cancer Institute issued a monograph in 1999 defining ETS as

“…an important source of exposure to toxic air contaminants indoors. There is also some exposure outdoors in the vicinity of smokers.  Despite an increasing number of restrictions on smoking and increased awareness of health impacts, exposures in the home, especially of infants and children, continue to be a public health concern.  ETS exposure is causally associated with a number of health effects.”

More recent monographs are available at the Tobacco Control Research site.

The UK Health & Safety Executive provides this specific environmental tobacco smoke advice

  1. Employers should have a specific policy on smoking in the workplace.
  2. Employers should take action to reduce the risk to the health and safety of their employees from second hand smoke to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.
  3. Smoking policy should give priority to the needs of non-smokers who do not wish to breathe tobacco smoke.
  4. Employers should consult their employees and their representatives on the appropriate smoking policy to suit their particular workplace.

The status of workplace smoking and secondhand smoke in most westernised countries seems to have plateau-ed or perhaps got to the point where every control measure that is reasonably practicable has been done.

That people continue to die directly and indirectly from tobacco smoke illustrates the flaw in the reasonably practicable approach to safety legislation and management which is “so what do we do next?”  Perhaps the attention being given to nano particles may help but is it the particulates in secondhand smoke that is the problem or the fumes themselves? Regardless, a new approach is needed to control this persistent workplace hazard.  Shoving smokers onto the streets and balconies is not enough.

Kevin Jones