Current guidance for safe handling and control of nanomaterials
In general, the potential risks to health from nanomaterials can be reduced by safe handling and control of exposure. While there is no single piece of guidance which can provide a definitive, step-by-step approach to safe handling of nanomaterials in all circumstances, there are a number of general and specific best practice guides which have been published. These can be used as the basis of good practice in most applications.
The general approach towards safe handling and control of nanomaterials is similar to that for other types on materials. In the UK, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) outlines a framework to support this, summarised as follows in an 8 stage approach:
- identify the hazards and assess the risks;
- decide what precautions are needed;
- prevent or adequately control exposure;
- ensure that control measures are used and maintained;
- monitor the exposure;
- carry out appropriate health surveillance;
- prepare plans and procedures to deal with accidents, incidents and emergencies; and
- ensure employees are properly informed, trained and supervised.
This general framework has been adapted into a range of published guidance which has been developed specifically for the handling and use of nanomaterials.
Key pieces of general guidance have been published by several organisations:
- British Standards Institute (BSI)
- Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
- International Standards Organisation (ISO)
- Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
These documents are summarised below, accompanied by links to the full text.
Further information and professional services which can support the development of safe handling of nanomaterials in manufacturing or usage, is available from SAFENANO Scientific Services
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This document, published by BSI, provides guidance on i) assessing risks and recognising uncertainties in the development, manufacture and use of nanomaterials, and ii) developing and implementing an effective strategy to address and control the risks.
The guidance included is applicable to a wide range of nanomatterials, including nano-objects such as nanoparticles, nanotubes and nanofibres, as well as aggregates and agglomerates of these objects and any material or preparation in which such nanomaterials comprise a significant proportion. However, the guide is not intended to be applicable to incidentally produced nanoparticles, such as diesel exhaust and welding fumes.
The document outlines its guidance according to the UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 8 stage generic approach described in the general principles section. It includes general information on nanomaterial types and characteristics, and exposure and risk issues. It then goes on to outline the required competence of the person/s conducting the nanomaterial risk assessment and how information may be collected and evaluated. Following this it offers guidance on control of exposure, health surveillance, methods for evaluating controls and considerations for safe disposal. Finally, it provides considerations for implementation of policies to cover outcomes such as spillages, accidental releases and the prevention of fire and explosions.
The document recognises the considerable uncertainty about many aspects of effective risk assessment of nanomaterials, including the hazardous potential of many types of nanoparticles and the levels below which individuals might be exposed with minimal likelihood of adverse health effects. It therefore recommends a cautious strategy for handling and disposing of nanomaterials.
This short guidance note, published by the UK HSE, offers specific guidance on the manufacture and manipulation of carbon nanotubes (CNT). Its content provides a short introduction to the background of the evidence for hazard from CNT, discusses the legal duty organisations hold to ensure safe manufacture and use of such materials, and offers guidance for risk management during their supply, use and at disposal. The document provides specific information about the types of enclosures which should be used when handling CNT, and the filtration to be used in the extraction system.
This guidance document was prepared in response to emerging evidence about the toxicology of carbon nanotubes, however the risk management principles detailed are equally applicable to other nanoscale bio-persistent fibres with a similar aspect ratio.
This Technical Report (TR) from the ISO Working group TC229, describes health and safety practices in occupational settings relevant to nanotechnologies. It focuses on manufacture and use of engineered nanomaterials. It does not address health and safety issues or practices associated with nanomaterials generated by natural processes, hot processes and other standard operations which unintentionally generate nanomaterials, or potential consumer exposures or uses, though some of the information within might be relevant to those areas.
The report is describes current knowledge about nanotechnologies, including characterisation, health effects, exposure assessment, and control practices. Use of the information in this Technical Report is intended to help companies, researchers, workers and other people to prevent adverse health and safety consequences during the production, handling, use and disposal of manufactured nanomaterials. This advice is broadly applicable across a range of nanomaterials and applications.
This OECD document provides an overview over recently published guidelines regarding the usage of nanomaterials at a laboratory scale. It is a compilation of exposure mitigation guidelines relating to laboratories that handle nanomaterials but is also applicable for small industrial enterprises, which produce or process nanomaterials in a laboratory scale.
The document focuses on both pointing out publications of primary importance and representing a general overview of the international spectrum of publications in that topic. The compilation of guidelines is structured according to typical concepts of occupational safety.
These concepts include:
- the precautionary approach,
- risk assessment,
- safer manufacturing approaches,
- technical measures,
- organizational measures,
- personal protective equipment,
- medical surveillance,
- waste disposal, and
The guidance documents were chosen particularly on the basis of their level of detail in the respective aspects of protection measures.
Those documents outlined within the compilation are further categorised according to whether they are:
- specific nanomaterial guidelines relating to laboratories;
- general nanomaterial guidelines with regards/ applicable to laboratories, or;
- general laboratory guidelines with regards/applicable to nanomaterial.
The web-based GoodNanoGuide is a collaboration platform which allows experts to develop and exchange ideas on how best to handle nanomaterials in an occupational setting. It has made available both environmental, health and safety ("EHS") Protocols and an EHS Reference Manual (insert links). The EHS Reference Manual outlines the approaches taken by professionals using research about nanomaterials and other precedents to develop appropriate protocols and guidelines. The manual is open for edit and comment and is organised into six sections sequenced to conform with general industrial processes employed, as follows:
- Section I - A Well-Defined Description of Work: The description of the specific work and EHS environment.
- Section II - Identify Hazard: Making use of the main concepts of nanomaterial physico-chemical characteristics, toxicology, ecotoxicology, and hazard classifications and EHS concepts to inform the consideration of the materials and factors that may constitute potential exposure and EHS risk from nanomaterials.
- Section III - Assess Potential Exposures: An analysis of the range of locations, types of person(s) and exposure routes which allows the professional to recommend practices for qualitative and quantitative exposure assessment.
- Section IV - Develop Risk Management Plan: Consideration of elements of the risk management plan which are based on the principles of controlling and managing exposure and how to apply good EHS and control practices.
- Section V - Verify Control Measures: Key to any EHS process, this section focuses on the need for the tools to evaluate the exposures, effectiveness of control measures and verification of procedures.
- Section VI - Periodically Re-Evaluate Good Practices: This section outlines the rationale for periodic reviews of the EHS protocols and exposure risks to allow for amendments and quality improvement over time.