Nanosafe 2012

Hansen, S. F. (Speaker)

Activity: Talks and presentationsConference presentations


In order to understand how companies identify and handle emerging risks related to nanomaterials, we completed more than 15 in-depth interviews with occupational health and safety (OHS) representatives in various Danish organisations. Companies varied not only greatly in regard to number of employees, overall R & D capacity and health and safety personnel, but also in regard to level of which, they already use/produce products that contain nanomaterials. Surprisingly, very little research has been done on how companies become alert to emerging issues although this initial identification of emerging risks is a prerequisite for any subsequent risk management. Key unanswered questions evolve around how companies: 1) Initially identify potentially emerging risks; 2) Collect and analyze data on these risks; 3) how they communication results of their analysis internally and externally; 4) how they complete their analysis of management options and subsequently implementation of these management options and finally, 5) what the implications of action taken are or has been. Through our interviews we found that the level of awareness about the potential occupational risk associated with nanomaterials varied greatly and range from “having just heard about potential risks and planning to look into it” to “having initiated an internal full risk assessment currently under external peer-review”. Employees noting “that something might not be right” as well as media rumors turned out to be the two main sources of identification of emerging risks, whereas ad hoc personal and non-formal networks and meetings with academics and health care officials also played a role in larger organisations. Various sources were used to obtain more factual information including: Google; Newsletters from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark; chemistry databases and scientific articles, but the information gathering process itself was somewhat unsystematic and seems to be completed ad hoc over time. Internal data analysis was performed by occupational health personal within the companies in constant consideration of resources available, priorities, possible management options, etc. unless individual OHS representative “felt like it” putting far more effort into it. Very often independent external experts were consulted in order to learn more and get outside confirmation of key internal findings and interpretations of the available literature. The selection of management options often involved a pro et con analysis of various options considering various technical and operational barriers whereas implementations often followed a process of: 1) Double-checking that company is in compliance with existing legislation and guidelines - often non-NM specific; 2) Initial mapping of NM R & D within the company; 3) Initiation of a capacity building process; 4) Mapping of NM exposure (sometimes very extensive); 5) Mapping of health effects among employees (again sometimes very extensive) and 6) Mapping and implementation of possible management options. Overall, very few options had been implemented about mostly “easy”, “low-hanging fruit” - PE-options and administrative controls. Limited or no implementation of more thorough process-related options or engineering controls was identified primarily explained by the continued uncertainty related to health effects of nanomatierals as well as uncertainty about legislation and best practices. Results were mostly communicated internally via intranets or internal workshops with health representatives. Externally communications included publication of scientific papers, posting of information on company websites, but surprisingly involved no or very limited dialogue with authorities. This was considered irrelevant at best and potentially a source of additional confusion and bureaucracy. Overall, implications of action taken within the companies have had little impacts, but in general company representatives noted that they had gotten an improved knowledge about NM risks; that there was a general alertness regarding risks related to airborne NPs and – in some companies - that there was an increased dialogue between workers and leadership.

Horizon-scanning and Identification of Emerging Risk among Nanotech-companies
Period14 Nov 2012
Event titleNanosafe 2012: International Conference on Safe production and use of nanomaterials
Event typeConference
LocationGrenoble, France