Does Nanotechnology Have Health & Safety Implications?

Posted on written by Nisha Dhingra

Nanotechnology isn’t a futuristic concept that we won’t see in our lifetimes. In fact, nanomaterial is being used in everyday products as we speak. In this weeks’ blog, we’ll be looking at what this means from a health & safety perspective and how it can affect your workplace.

Technological Evolution…

Think about a computer you had in 2008…and the smartphone you’re holding in your hand – it’s probably a lot more powerful. Technological products keep getting smaller and smaller, but what we have now was unthinkable to the majority of us even just a few years ago.

While new technology is generally seen as having a positive impact on the workplace – How Will Artificial Intelligence Fit into Health & Safety? – there are concerns about the direction that it is heading.

What Is Nanotechnology?

Nanotechnology sounds like a sci-fi concept but it is being used today and we need to be prepared for any implications this might have…

In fact, perhaps we shouldn’t think about nanotechnology as a ‘one technology’ but as something that has the power to completely change everything in the world. It is the future we are most concerned about as nanotechnology opens up a whole world of possibilities, from curing diseases or creating clean energy, to developing computers that are more powerful than we could ever imagine.

What is ‘Nano’?

Before we discuss the implications of health and safety with nano technology, let’s start off with defining what nano is. ‘Nano’ refers to one billionth of something, which means 1 nanometre = 1 billionth of a metre. So a ‘nano’ can also be ascribed to any unit of measure – whether this is a small amount of mass or measuring an amount of liquid – in a nutshell it’s almost measuring very small units.

To give you an understanding of the measurements of a ‘nano’ – a single human hair is about 50,000 to 100,000 nm wide – so a nanometre is very tiny! Let’s put this in technical terms shall we?

Nanoscience – It is the study of structures and materials on the scale of nanometres.

…nanotechnology isn’t a new concept as such, as there are many products we use on a daily basis without even realising. Got it now?! (Wasn’t as hard as you thought it be right?)

Health & Safety Concerns

Potentially nanotechnology can be used to treat diseases that are currently terminal or to provide us with energy to power the world. This all sounds great, doesn’t it?!

While the potential of nanotechnology is exciting, it isn’t without its health and safety concerns. Even though nanotechnology isn’t new as such, the ways in which it is being used is different from anything we have experienced before. The implications it has on health and safety are (for the most part) unknown and this causes issues for workplace and employee well-being.

Being exposed to nanomaterials, working with them and using products that contain them, are all factors that pose serious health and safety concerns.

Health Hazards Found With Nanomaterials

There have been a range of issues that have flagged up regarding the effects of nanomaterials. The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) have found proven health hazards associated with numerous manufactured nanomaterials. In fact, due to nanomaterials tiny size and large surface area, tiny nanomaterials in a powder form may present risks of explosion. Whereas slightly larger particles of nanomaterials may not.

It is fair to say not all nanomaterials have a toxic effect, however further research is necessary in order to identify any potential health & safety concerns which may come to the horizon.

There have been various effects of nanomaterials which have been found to reach the human body, including parts such as;

How Can You Gain Exposure On Nanomaterials Within a Workplace?

You may come into contact with nanomaterials at the production stage, yet others within the working environment may be exposed to nanomaterials at different stages of the supply chain. Many workers may be unaware they’re in contact with nanomaterials – this goes without saying it is unlikely sufficient measures are being put into place to prevent exposure at this present time.

Health & Safety With Nanotechnology 

It’s clear that nanotechnology has emerged as one of the leading ways in which the world can be changed – not just in the distant future but in the present day too. While we don’t know the precise way in which coming into contact with nanomaterials will affect us exactly (if at all), it is still something to ponder from a health and safety perspective and research is being conducted into this area as we speak.

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