Safe Work Australia Publishes Reports on Methods to Reduce Nanomaterial Exposure

Safe Work Australia recently released two research reports on engineered nanomaterials and a nanotechnology risk assessment tool in an effort to reduce the risk for nanomaterial exposure and to create a safer working environment.

Tom Phillips, chair of Safe Work Australia, said that the reports provide a reliable source of information to help protect the health and safety of people working with nanomaterials.

“By using the identified methods to reduce the risk posed by the use of nanomaterials and assessing exposure levels, we can work towards building a safer working environment and a safer community,” he explained. “Safe Work Australia is continuing to facilitate research on engineered nanomaterials to contribute to national and global research efforts on nanotechnology.”

The Reports

Safe Work Australia commissioned the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology to undertake a survey for the report titled “Engineered Nanomaterials: Investigating Substitution and Modification Options to Reduce Potential Hazards.” The survey assessed the current substitution and modification practices used in Australian nanotechnology activities. A literature review also was conducted to determine the potential substitution and modification options that may reduce the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Australian researchers and companies use a range of methods to substitute or modify engineered nanomaterials.
  • Currently, substitution or modification is mainly used to change the properties of products for end-use.

Methods including surface modification, particle size control and functional group addition also can be used to decrease the potential toxicity of engineered nanomaterials. Researchers, developers and manufacturers of engineered nanomaterials may be able to apply these methods more broadly to address work health and safety related issues.

The Monash University Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health was commissioned to undertake research for the report titled “Engineered Nanomaterials: Feasibility of Established Exposure Standards and Using Control Banding in Australia.” Key findings in this report include:

  • Benchmark exposure levels are precautionary limits that can be assigned to groups of nanomaterials.
  • Benchmark exposure levels may be adopted as guidance initially and may be converted into National Exposure Standards as further hazard, risk and measurement data become available.
  • Exposure levels below the benchmark exposure levels can be achieved using conventional engineering controls.
  • The choice of appropriate workplace controls for nanomaterials can be facilitated using the control banding approach to risk management.
  • Control banding should be used in conjunction with current jurisdictional work health and safety regulations.

The use of both benchmark exposure levels and control banding are consistent with a precautionary approach to handling nanomaterials, as recommended by Safe Work Australia where limited information about hazards and risks is available.

Risk Assessment Tool

Safe Work Australia also recently released the Work Health and Safety Assessment Tool for Handling Engineered Nanomaterials, which can be used by organizations and regulators when assessing the use of nanomaterials.

The assessment tool allows the user to record the types of nanomaterials manufactured or supplied, the processes and controls used to prevent exposure to nanoparticles and problems faced with managing nanotechnology work health and safety.

The reports, risk assessment tool and further information on the nanotechnology work health and safety program can be found at http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au.

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