As the number of engineered nanomaterials (ENM) used in research increases rapidly, health and safety specialists are continuously faced with the challenge of evaluating the risks involved with these materials. Nowadays there is not enough information about their toxicology and new materials are continuously being developed. Preliminary scientific results indicate that ENM might have a damaging impact on human health, which makes it even more important to have the right mitigation measures in place.
Risk evaluation involves compilation of accurate detailed information from all available sources (SDS, toxicological information etc.). However, ENM often demonstrate properties that differ from the bulk form of the same material, which provides opportunities for new applications but also new possible hazards.
Given the current state of knowledge on ENM, it is likely that it will take years before we know precisely what types of ENM and associated doses represent a real danger to humans and the environment. There is a consensus on applying the precautionary principle to these novel materials until more information is available, and a pragmatic way of applying it is to use a control banding approach. Nevertheless, the uncertainty on both the exposure and impact, as well as a cautionary approach, seem to result in a high level of estimated risk requiring high protection measures.
In research and teaching institutions we face a highly versatile environment with large number of laboratories, large cohorts of inexperienced people (students) and highly trained staff with a high turnover.
We will present a practical and pragmatic implementation of a “Nano safety” management system, see Figure 1. The system is based on a control banding method and 13 years of experience, and has been applied to over 120 research labs dealing with ENM. This system is composed of: 1) ENM activity analysis to classify the laboratory into a risk level and 2) the implementation of the adequate preventive and protective mitigation measures that correspond to said risk level. We will conclude by discussing the difficulties, the drawbacks and the success encountered in an evolving and rapidly changing environment.