RI&E for engineered nanoparticles is a must-have

Jan van de Wiel

Why is Risk Inventory & Evaluation (RI&E) for engineered nanoparticles a must-have?

Uncovering risks, determining measures. An in-depth nano RI&E isn’t an ‘extra’ measure which can be taken in addition to a generic RI&E. Many companies are not aware of potential danger. When asbestos was introduced, nobody realized which dangers its microscopic particles would bring. Decades later, we’ve seen countless costly removals, health hazards and legal procedures. As more and more new man-made ‘engineered nanoparticles’, with unique chemical, physical and morphological properties are entering the market, similar problems may arise due to a lack of knowledge.

By Jan van de Wiel, Health & Safety Consultant, Philips Innovation Services

Making invisible danger visible

Relatively little is known about the impact of new man-made nanoparticles on human health. Therefore, employers are obliged to prevent exposure. To achieve this, however, companies need to know where potential exposure may occur. A generic RI&E won’t always suffice. It will inventory risks related to the more general working conditions, but it won’t examine certain important topics in detail, such as safety related to chemicals and electricity. An in-depth ‘nano-RI&E’ makes the risks to which employees may be exposed visible. The methodology is similar to generic RI&Es, only geared toward a specific subject.

Companies’ frequent unfamiliarity with health aspects of these invisible particles, which have only recently been introduced, makes it difficult for them to determine whether people are at risk. However, if there’s any evidence of not complying with the relevant laws, the Ministry of Social Affairs won’t hesitate to impose a sanction. Legislation doesn’t mention nanoparticles specifically – these are covered by the term ‘hazardous materials’ from which employees must be protected.

Taking risk assessment to the next level

A well-conducted ‘generic’ RI&E requires insight into the various processes, including raw materials research. Part of a RI&E is a plan of action; the effectiveness of this depends on the inventory evaluation. A good evaluation should be based on experience and insight. If the research phase shows there are potential nano-part-related risks, the generic RI&E needs to be expanded with a specific RI&E for nano, including quantitative and qualitative assessments.

Emission control of nanoparticles results in safer working conditions. However, expertise required to assess the risks is insufficiently present in many companies, as well as the knowledge and equipment required to define control measures. Often, however, safety is just one of many tasks for which a certain individual is responsible, but it ought to be given the attention it deserves.

Uncovering risks, determining measures

Fortunately, awareness of this topic is increasing. The NanoNextNL project, for example, is a Dutch grant project. One of its components is the development of qualitative and quantitative methods to measure exposure. Two Philips Innovations Services departments: Environment, Health & Safety and Materials Analysis are involved in this project

An in-depth nano RI&E isn’t an ‘extra’ measure which can be taken in addition to a generic RI&E. Many companies are not aware of potential danger, so this type of deeper investigation, such as our dedicated nano-RI&E, is a must-have, an integral part of employer’s legal obligations.

Photos: as nanoparticles can’t be directly perceived, potential ‘danger zones’ must be found and preventive measures taken.

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environmental and safety consultant jan van de wiel

Jan van de Wiel
Health & Safety Consultant
Philips Innovation Services

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