, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp 1673-1683
Date: 07 Jul 2009

National nanotechnology partnership to protect workers

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Nanotechnology is predicted to improve many aspects of human life. By 2015, it is estimated to represent $3.1 trillion in manufactured goods. Data is emerging that exposure to nanomaterials may pose a health risk to workers. If the economic promise of nanotechnology is to be achieved, ways need to be found to protect nanotechnology workers now. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHAct) gave the responsibility to protect workers to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) through research, standards adoption, and standards enforcement. Since 1980, adopting new occupational health standards has grown more complex. The increased complexity has greatly slowed efforts to adopt protective standards for toxic agents that are well-known to pose significant risks. The likelihood of rapidly adopting standards to protect workers from nanomaterials, whose risks are just emerging, seems even more unlikely. Use of the OSHAct’s general duty clause to protect workers also seems uncertain at this time. In the interim, a national partnership led by NIOSH involving nanotech manufacturers and downstream users, workers, academic researchers, safety, and health practitioners is proposed. A National Nanotechnology Partnership would generate knowledge about the nature and the extent of worker risk, utilize that knowledge to develop risk control strategies to protect nanotechnology workers now, and provide an evidence base for NIOSH recommendations to OSHA for a nanotechnology program standard at a future date.