Horizon-Scanning and Identification of Emerging Risks among Nanotech Companies in Denmark

Steffen Foss Hansen, Henrik Vejen Kristensen

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    In order to understand how companies identify and handle emerging risks related to nanomaterials, we completed more than 15 in-depth interviews with key personnel in various Danish companies. Companies varied greatly in regard to number of employees and overall R & D capacity and health and safety personnel, but also in regard to level of which, they already used/produce products that contain nanomaterials. Surprisingly, very little research has been done on: 1) How companies identify 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 has been.
    Blue-color employees noting “that something might not be right” as well as the 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 most cases, various sources were used in obtain more factual information including: Google; Newsletters from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment; 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 health personal “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. 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 involve no or very limited dialogue with authorities as 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 generally 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.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalNanotechnology Law & Business
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)82-92
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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