, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 5–23 | Cite as

Laboratory Safety and Nanotechnology Workers: an Analysis of Current Guidelines in the USA

  • Jeong Joo Ahn
  • Youngjae Kim
  • Elizabeth A. Corley
  • Dietram A. Scheufele


Although some regulatory frameworks for the occupational health and safety of nanotechnology workers have been developed, worker safety and health issues in these laboratory environments have received less attention than many other areas of nanotechnology regulation. In addition, workers in nanotechnology labs are likely to face unknown risks and hazards because few of the guidelines and rules for worker safety are mandatory. In this article, we provide an overview of the current health and safety guidelines for nanotechnology laboratory workers by exploring guidelines from different organizations, including the Department of Energy Nanoscale Science Research Centers (DOE-NSRC), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Texas A&M University (TAMU), and University of Massachusetts-Lowell (UML). After discussing these current guidelines, we apply an ethical framework to each set of guidelines to explore any gaps that might exist in them. By conducting this gap analysis, we are able to highlight some of the weaknesses that might be important for future policy development in this area. We conclude by outlining how future guidelines might address some of these gaps, specifically the issue of workers’ participation in the process of establishing safety measures and the development and enforcement of more unified (and mandatory) guidelines.


Ethical issues Ethics Nanotechnology Worker safety Regulation Occupational safety and health 


  1. 1.
    Lux Research (2008) Nanomaterials state of the market Q3 2008: stealth success, broad impact. Lux Research, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Roco MC, Bainbridge WS (2001) Societal implications of nanoscience and nanotechnology. Kluwer Academic Publishers, NorwellCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lux Research (2014) Nanotechnology update: corporations up their spending as revenues for nano-enabled products increase., Lux Research website, Accessed 20 July 2015Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Sargent Jr JF (2014) The National Nanotechnology Initiative: overview, reauthorization, and appropriations issues. Congressional Research Service. Accessed 20 July 2015
  5. 5.
    Foladori G, Záyago E (2010) What lies beneath: trade unions and the moratorium on the commercialisation of nanotechnologies. Sci Tech Soc 15(1):155–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Maynard AD (2015) The (nano) entrepreneur’s dilemma. Nat Nanotechnol 10(3):199–200CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Donaldson K, Aitken R, Tran L, Stone V, Duffin R, Forrest G, Alexander A (2006) Carbon nanotubes: a review of their properties in relation to pulmonary toxicology and workplace safety. Toxicol Sci 92(1):5–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Lorenz C, Hagendorfer H, von Goetz N, Kaegi R, Gehrig R, Ulrich A, Scheringer M, Hungerbühler K (2011) Nanosized aerosols from consumer sprays: experimental analysis and exposure modeling for four commercial products. J Nanoparticle Res 13(8):3377–3391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Maynard AD, Kuempel ED (2005) Airborne nanostructured particles and occupational health. J Nanoparticle Res 7(6):587–614CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Nazarenko Y, Han TW, Lioy PJ, Mainelis G (2011) Potential for exposure to engineered nanoparticles from nanotechnology-based consumer spray products. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 21(5):515–528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hansen SF, Jensen KA, Baun A (2014) NanoRiskCat: a conceptual tool for categorization and communication of exposure potentials and hazards of nanomaterials in consumer products. J Nanoparticle Res 16(1):1–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Cameron J, Abouchar J (1991) The precautionary principle: a fundamental principle of law and policy for the protection of the global environment. Boston Coll Int Comp Law Rev 14(1):1–27Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Stirling A (2001) The precautionary principle in science and technology. In: O’Riordan T, Cameron J, Jordan A (eds) Reinterpreting the precautionary principle. Cameron and May, London, pp 61–94Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    World Health Organization (2013) Nanotechnology and human health: scientific evidence and risk governance. WHO website.
  15. 15.
    Sass J (2006) Nanotechnology and the precautionary principle., Natural Resources Defense Council website, Accessed 20 July 2015Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Weil D (2003) OSHA: Beyond the politics. Frontline website. . Accessed 20 July 2015
  17. 17.
    Schmid K, Riediker M (2008) Use of nanoparticles in Swiss industry: a targeted survey. Environ Sci Technol 42(7):2253–2260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) to the OECD (2013) Responsible development of nanotechnology: turning vision into reality. BIAC website. Accessed 20 July 2015
  19. 19.
    National Institutes of Health, Office of Research Service, Division of Occupational Health and Safety (2014) Nanotechnology safety and health program. NIH website. Safety and Health Program.pdf . Accessed 20 July 2015
  20. 20.
    Gerritzen G, Huang l-C, Killpack K, Mircheva M, Conti J (2006) A review of current practices in the Nanotechnology Industry. Phase two report: survey of current practices in the Nanotechnology workplace. ICON Report. Icon and University of California, Santa BarbaraGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Schulte PA, Salamanca-Buentello F (2007) Ethical and scientific issues of nanotechnology in the workplace. J Environ Health Perspect 12(5):1319–1332Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Pope CA III, Thun MJ, Namboodiri MM, Dockery DW, Evans JS, Speizer FE, Heath CW Jr (1995) Particulate air pollution as a predictor of mortality in a prospective study of US adults. Am J Resp Crit Care 151(3):669–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Seaton A, Tran L, Aitken R, Donaldson K (2010) Nanoparticles, human health hazard and regulation. J R Soc Interface 7(Suppl 1):S119–S129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Schulte PA, Geraci C, Murashov V, Kuempel E, Zumwalde R, Castranova V, Hoover M, Hodson L, Martinez K (2014) Occupational safety and health criteria for responsible development of nanotechnology. J Nanoparticle Res 16(1):1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Beaudrie CE, Kandlikar M, Satterfield T (2013) From cradle-to-grave at the nanoscale: Gaps in US regulatory oversight along the nanomaterial life cycle. Environ Sci Technol 47(11):5524–5534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Balbus JM, Florini K, Denison RA, Walsh SA (2007) Protecting workers and the environment: an environmental NGO’s perspective on nanotechnology. J Nanoparticle Res 9(1):11–22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Kuzma J, Besley J (2008) Ethics of risk analysis and regulatory review: from bio- to nanotechnology. NanoEthics 2(2):149–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    Bowman DM, Gilligan G (2010) The private dimension in the regulation of nanotechnologies: developments in the industrial chemicals sector. UCLA J Environ Law Policy 28(1):77–133Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Kreider T, Halperin W (2011) Engineered nanomaterials: learning from the past, planning for the future. J Occup Environ Med 53:S108–S112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 30.
    Nel A, Xia T, Mädler L, Li N (2006) Toxic potential of materials at the nanolevel. Science 311(5761):622–627CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Bello D, Hart AJ, Ahn K, Hallock M, Yamamoto N, Garcia EJ, Ellenbecker MJ, Wardle BL (2008) Particle exposure levels during CVD growth and subsequent handling of vertically-aligned carbon nanotube films. Carbon 46(6):974–977CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Bello D, Wardle BL, Yamamoto N, Guzman DeVilloria R, Garcia EJ, Hart AJ, Ahn K, Ellenbecker MJ, Hallock M (2009) Exposure to nanoscale particles and fibers during machining of hybrid advanced composites containing carbon nanotubes. J Nanoparticle Res 11(1):231–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Han JH, Lee EJ, Lee JH, So KP, Lee YH, Bae GN, Lee S-B, Ji JH, Cho MH, Yu IJ (2008) Monitoring multiwalled carbon nanotube exposure in carbon nanotube research facility. Inhal Toxicol 20(8):741–749CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Maynard AD, Baron PA, Foley M, Shvedova AA, Kisin ER, Castranova V (2004) Exposure to carbon nanotube material: aerosol release during the handling of unrefined single-walled carbon nanotube material. J Toxic Environ Health A 67(1):87–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Mazzuckelli LF, Methner MM, Birch ME, Evans DE, Ku B-K, Crouch K, Hoover MD (2007) Identification and characterization of potential sources of worker exposure to carbon nanofibers during polymer composite laboratory operations. J Occup Environ Hyg 4(12):D125–D130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 36.
    Conti JA, Killpack K, Gerritzen G, Huang L, Mircheva M, Delmas M, Harthorn BH, Appelbaum RP, Holden PA (2008) Health and safety practices in the nanomaterials workplace: results from an international survey. Environ Sci Technol 42(9):3155–3162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. 37.
    Balas F, Arruebo M, Urrutia J, Santamaria J (2010) Reported nanosafety practices in research laboratories worldwide. Nat Nanotechnol 5(2):93–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Rothwell R (1992) Industrial innovation and government environmental regulation: some lessons from the past. Technovation 12(7):447–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Szasz A (1986) The reversal of federal policy toward worker safety and health. Sci Soc 50(1):25–51Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Nilstun T, Øvretveit J (2004) Ethical analysis. In: Westerholm P, Nilstun T, Øvretveit J (eds) Practical Ethics in Occupational Health. Radcliffe Medical Press, San Francisco, pp 37–47Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Pelley J, Saner MA (2009) International approaches to the regulatory governance of nanotechnology: Regulatory Governance Initiative. Carleton University website. Accessed 20 July 2015
  42. 42.
    Groso A, Petri-Fink A, Magrez A, Riediker M, Meyer T (2010) Management of nanomaterials safety in research environment. Part Fibre Toxicol 7(1):40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2015) Potential risks of nanomaterials and how to safely handle materials of uncertain toxicity. MIT website. . Accessed 20 July 2015
  44. 44.
    Brock, B (2009) Containment hierarchy of controls. (ISPE KB-0013-Oct09). The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering website. Accessed 20 July 2015
  45. 45.
    U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (2011) Laboratory safety guidance (OSHA 3404-11R). OSHA website. Accessed 20 July 2015
  46. 46.
    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2012) General safe practices for working with engineered nanomaterials in research laboratories (DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2012-147). NIOSH website . Accessed 20 July 2015
  47. 47.
    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2013) Current strategies for engineering controls in nanomaterial production and downstream handling processes. (Publication No. 2014-102). NIOSH website. . Accessed 20 July 2015
  48. 48.
    U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (2015) Hierarchy of controls. OSHA website. Accessed 20 July 2015
  49. 49.
    Texas A & M (2011) Interim guideline for working safely with nanotechnology. TAMU website. . Accessed 20 July 2015
  50. 50.
    Brown SW, Swartz TA (1989) A gap analysis of professional service quality. J Mark 53(2):92–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Kotabe M, Czinkota MR (1992) State government promotion of manufacturing exports: a gap analysis. J Int Bus Stud 23(4):637–658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Grundy T, Brown L (2002) Strategic project management: creating organizational breakthroughs. Thompson Learning, LondonGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Lucas J, Bulbul T, Anumba C (2012) Gap analysis on the ability of guidelines and standards to support the performance of healthcare facilities. J Perform Constr Facil 27(6):748–755CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    LaBay DG, Comm CL (2003) A case study using gap analysis to assess distance learning versus traditional course delivery. Int J Educ Manag 17(7):312–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. 55.
    Wolfson JR (2003) Social and ethical issues in nanotechnology: lessons from biotechnology and other high technologies. Biotechnology Law Report 22(4):376–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Iavicoli S, Rondinone BM, Boccuni F (2009) Occupational safety and health’s role in sustainable, responsible nanotechnology: gaps and needs. Hum Exp Toxicol 28(6-7):433–443CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Ariss SS (2003) Employee involvement to improve safety in the workplace: an ethical imperative. Am J Bus 18(2):9–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Clayton A (2003) Regulating occupational health and safety: the need for a new paradigm. Saf Sci Monit 7(1):1–16Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    Ladd J (1987) The task of ethics. In: Reich WT (ed) Encyclopedia of Bioethics. Free Press, New York, pp 400–407Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    Westerholm P (2007) Professional ethics in occupational health: Western European perspectives. Ind Health 45(1):19–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. 61.
    Soskolne CL (1997) Ethical, social, and legal issues surrounding studies of susceptible populations and individuals. Environ Health Perspect 105(Suppl 4):837–841CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. 62.
    Ebbesen M, Andersen S, Besenbacher F (2006) Ethics in nanotechnology: starting from scratch? B Sci Technol Soc 26(6):451–462Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    Ashford NA (1994) Monitoring the worker and the community for chemical exposure and disease: legal and ethical considerations in the US. Clin Chem 40(7):1426–1437Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Jonsen AR (1991) Ethical considerations and responsibilities when communicating health risk information. J Clin Epidemiol 44(1):69s–72sCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. 65.
    Spagnolo AG, Daloiso V (2009) Outlining ethical issues in nanotechnologies. Bioethics 23(7):394–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. 66.
    Weil V (2001) Ethical issues in nanotechnology. In: National Science Foundation (ed.) Social Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. WTEC, Arlington pp 193–198Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Beauchamp TL, Childress JF (1994) Principles of biomedical ethics, 4th edn. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  68. 68.
    Gert B, Culver CM, Clouser KD (1997) Bioethics: a return to fundamentals. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  69. 69.
    Gewirth A (1978) Reason and morality. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  70. 70.
    Gewirth A (1986) Human rights in the workplace. Am J Ind Med 9(1):31–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. 71.
    Shrader-Frechette KS (1994) Ethics of scientific research. Rowman & Littlefield, LanhamGoogle Scholar
  72. 72.
    Council IRG (2007) Nanotechnology risk governance: recommendations for a global, coordinated approach to the governance of potential risk., IRGC website, Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    U.S. Department of Energy, Nanoscale Science Research Center (2008) Approach to nanomaterial ES & H. DOE-NSRC website. Accessed 20 July 2015
  74. 74.
    Ellenbecker M, Tsai S (2008) Interim best practices for working with nanoparticles. University of Massachusetts-Lowell website. . Accessed 20 July 2015
  75. 75.
    Hambach R, Mairiaux P, François G, Braeckman L, Balsat A, Van Hal G, Vandoorne C, Van Royen P, Van Sprundel M (2011) Workers’ perception of chemical risks: a focus group study. Risk Anal 31(2):335–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. 76.
    Halperin WE, Ratcliffe J, Frazier TM, Wilson L, Becker SP, Schulte PA (1986) Medical screening in the workplace: proposed principles. J Occup Environ Med 28(8):547–552CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. 77.
    Harber P, Conlon C, McCunney RJ (2003) Occupational medical surveillance. In: McCunney RJ (ed) A practical approach to occupational and environmental medicine. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, pp 582–599Google Scholar
  78. 78.
    Mowatt G, Thomson MA, Grimshaw J, Grant A (1998) Implementing early warning messages on emerging health technologies. Int J Technol Assess Health Care 14(4):663–670CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. 79.
    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2009) Current intelligent bulletin 60: Interim guidance for medical screening and hazard surveillance for workers potentially exposed to engineered nanoparticles (DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2009-116). NIOSH website. . Accessed 20 July 2015
  80. 80.
    Kern R (2015) Proposal for CPSC Nanotechnology Center would study consumer health risks., The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies website, Google Scholar
  81. 81.
    Sargent Jr JF (2013) The National Nanotechnology Initiative: overview, reauthorization, and appropriations issues. Congressional Research Service. Accessed 20 July 2015
  82. 82.
    Bicos S (1990) Employee participation without pain. HR Mag 35(4):89–92Google Scholar
  83. 83.
    Reichow A, Dorbeck-Jung B (2013) Discovering specific conditions for compliance with soft regulation related to work with nanomaterials. NanoEthics 7(1):83–92CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeong Joo Ahn
    • 1
  • Youngjae Kim
    • 1
  • Elizabeth A. Corley
    • 1
  • Dietram A. Scheufele
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Public AffairsArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA
  2. 2.John E. Ross Professor, Department of Life Sciences CommunicationUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations