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Description of Work

Risk management in handling new technologies in an occupational environment requires an assessment of both the hazard and the potential for exposure. Hazard requires an understanding of the transport of the nanomaterial in an organism and any resulting toxic responses of organs or biological interactions that could result in chronic (long term) effects. Assessment of the potential for exposure requires characterization of the concentration of the nanomaterial that could contact the person in the occupational environment in a location where it could be absorbed. When little is known about the potential hazard of a nanomaterial, conservative measures should be establish to minimize potential for exposure, such as engineering controls. If the hazard of the material is verified to be low, the risk assessor may be able to employ less stringent exposure prevention measures. The GoodNanoGuide’s OHS Reference Manual is intended to aid in identifying engineering controls that should be employed in different occupational environments. The environments considered include Research, Engineering and Development, and High Volume Manufacturing. The operations include synthesizing, transfer and packaging, or characterizing nanomaterials, formulating dispersions, processing dispersions, or processing or assembling nanomaterial based solids or components, and accidental spills and releases.

Begin with a well-defined description of work by gathering information about:

  • The Product Itself – properties, volume, type and form of use1;
  • Stage of Materials
    • Primary Nanomaterial
    • Intermediates – Powder, Liquid, or Solid
    • Products based on Nanomaterials – Powder, Liquid, or Solid
    • Processing to be Performed on the Nanomaterial
  • The Activity – works steps that may lead to intake by inhalation, dermal contact (including eyes and mucus membranes), ingestion, or injection1
  • Type of Work
  • Substitution options for hazardous substances, including any use that would result in a lower hazard1;
  • The effectiveness of protection measures already in place and, if applicable, information about implemented activities in preventive occupational medicine1; and Data gaps.1

In addition to the suggestion that work planning/hazard assessment should begin with a well-defined description of work, the U.S. Department of Energy, Nanoscale Science Research Centers, “Approach to Nanomaterial ES&H,” further suggests that “the assessment should, as needed,

  • Involve subject matter experts
  • Identify recognized and suspect hazards and uncertainties
  • Specify hazard controls including
  • Consider, but do not unquestionably rely on chemical hazard information for bulk/raw materials when developing controls for nanomaterials, and any new information specific to the material at the scale being used.
  • Before starting any new work, ensure that the ES&H subject matter expert (SME) or the home Laboratory’s authority over waste management
    • Evaluates the potential for generating new nanomaterial-bearing waste streams and
    • Defines waste management procedures for wastes that contain nanomaterials
  • Evaluate the potential for worker exposure to nanomaterials and their escape into the environment before removing, remodeling, servicing, maintaining, or repairing laboratory equipment and exhaust systems.
  • Consider the recognized and foreseeable hazards of the percursor materials and intermediates as well as those of the resulting nanomaterials.
  • Consider the higher reactivity of some nanoscale materials as requiring that they be treated as potential sources of ignition, accelerants, and fuel that could result in fire or explosion.
  • Consider the potential for reactions involving nanomaterials already ‘captured’ in exhaust air filters.”2

1. Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, “Guidance for Handling and Use of Nanomaterials at the Workplace,”, § II.1 (27 August 2007)

2. U.S. Department of Energy, Nanoscale Science Research Centers, “Approach to Nanomaterial ES&H,” 4-5 (Rev. 3a May 12, 2008).