This information is to help businesses and workers protect themselves and others when working with nanotechnology or at risk from nanotechnology.
What is the hazard
Nanotechnology is the science of controlling material on an atomic and molecular scale. It is used to create stronger, smaller, lighter, durable materials, products, substances, tools or technology.
There are three types of nanomaterials:
Engineered/manufactured nanomaterial (ENM) is material/particles controlled and manipulated on an atomic and molecular scale to create enhanced material/substances, such as:
- scratch proof films and materials
- transparent sunscreens
- longer lasting or deep penetrating cosmetics
- heat/crack/stain resistant paints
- antibacterial/stain/smell repellent materials
- solar panels and sensors
- drugs and cardiac devices
Incidental or combustion nanomaterial
Incidental or combustion nanomaterial occurs as a result of a by-product such as burning tobacco/cigarettes, bushfires, as well as the by-product of mechanical or other process, such as diesel exhaust fumes and welding fumes.
Naturally occurring nanomaterial
Examples of naturally occurring nanomaterial includes organic/inorganic particles found in matter such as volcanic ash, viruses, sea spray, fine dust/sand, lotus leaves, bone, and spider silk.
What are the harms
It is believed engineered nanomaterials are more toxic and lead to worse health effects as they can move through the body undetected and potentially damage people at a cellular level. Processes which generate nanomaterials in gas, powders or solutions pose the greatest risk for workplace exposure.
While nanomaterial is more easily contained in liquid form, processes such as subjecting the material to ultrasonic vibration, can cause the material to be aerosolised and therefore pose a significant risk. While exposure is presumed to be lower in solid materials, nanomaterial can still break away and spread into the environment under certain conditions (for example, milling or grinding).
It is recommended to keep a hazardous chemicals register for nanomaterials. This is outlined in the table from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
There are no specific regulations or exposure standards covering engineered nanomaterials. The responsibility remains for all businesses (PCBU’s) to ensure the health and safety of their workers and others by managing the hazards and risks at your workplace.
Engineered nanomaterials are likely to be classified as hazardous chemicals under the WHS Regulations 2017, based on the physiochemical properties of the parent material. SafeWork NSW recommends that exposure to Hazardous Chemicals (nanomaterials) be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable. A risk management precautionary approach should be put into practice when using or handling nanomaterial during all stages of the lifecycle of the material from design, manufacture, supply and transportation, use, maintenance, cleaning and disposal.
As a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) you must take suitable action for each of the areas of your legislative responsibility:
- Classification of the material - Manufacturers and importers need to determine if the product cause:
- health effects - carcinogenic, mutagenic, toxic, harmful, sensitizing, irritant, or have other harmful health effects, or
- physical effects/reactivity – corrosive, explosive, flammable, (spontaneously) combustible
- Safety data sheets - must be prepared and provided by manufactures/importers of the product/material and should include nanomaterial specific hazards and toxicological information, when known. The Safety data sheet must then be made available to workers using or handling the material.
- Labelling - all classified hazardous chemicals (nanomaterial) must be appropriately labelled.
- Hazardous chemicals register - is developed and maintained.
- Risk Management - assessments are completed for the use of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, including all associated risk throughout the life-cycle of the nanomaterial.
- PCBU’s are to ensure the exposure to workers is kept to a minimum. This can be done through implementing the hierarchy of controls and taking Inventory of tasks by assessing the duration, frequency, quantity and type of exposure (nano-powders, liquids or solids) of the material handled.
- The SafeWork Australia Work Health and Safety Assessment Tool for Handling Engineered Nanomaterials was developed in consultation with SafeWork NSW and other WHS Regulators and is a simple tool which can be utilised across most industries who design, manufacture, supply or otherwise use/handle nanomaterial.
- In addition to the assessment tool, where there is a lack of information on the nanomaterial, PCBU’s can manage the risk by grouping nanomaterials with similar characteristics by Control Banding i.e. grouping material by toxicity level, physical appearance or other similarities.
- Consultation – must occur with workers. Workers should be involved in the decisions and risk management process that relate to the work they carry out.
- Training and supervision – must be provided to workers to educate, train and instruct them on the specific issues associated with the nanomaterial/s they use, handled or stored at the workplace.
Health surveillance is not a protective mechanism. Ongoing occupational health programs can provide an indication of exposure levels and effectiveness of control measures (e.g. closed systems). Any changes in a worker’s exposure levels, identified by a health program should be investigated and corrective action taken to reduce or prevent the cause of further exposure.
Research and evaluation remain educated on current health and safety research, trends, and findings on the nanomaterial being used, store or handled and the effectiveness of controls in place to eliminate potential health and safety risks as far as reasonably practicable.
Tools and resources
- Workplace Health and Safety Queensland - Nanomaterial Control banding risk assessment Control Banding tool worksheet
- Canadian CCOSH – Nanotechnology – Control banding
- World Health Organisation (WHO)
- WHO - Guidelines on Protecting Workers from Potential Risks of Manufactured Nanomaterials provides PCBU’s with recommendations on the precautionary decision making approach to best protect workers from the potential exposure risks associated with engineered nanomaterials.
Technical help and guidance
- WHS Act 2011 Duties : s.19 Primary duty of care, s.22 designers, s.23 manufacturers, s.24 importers , s.25 suppliers and s.28 workers
- WHS Reg 2017– Hazardous Chemicals & Hazardous chemical labeling & Safety datasheets
- Safe work NSW Code of Practice:
- Safe Work Australia
- Classification of Hazardous Chemicals
- Engineered Nanomaterials: a review of the toxicology and health hazards
- Engineered Nanomaterials: feasibility of establishing exposure standards and using control banding in Australia
- Nanotechnology – Carbon Nanotubes
- Measuring and Assessing Emissions of Nanomaterials from Processes Information Sheet
- Emissions of nanomaterials during machining processes - information sheet
- Measurements of Particle Emissions from Nanotechnology Processes, with Assessment of Measuring Techniques and Workplace Controls