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OSHA issues fact sheet on “Working Safely with Nanomaterials”

February 7, 2013
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nanoparticlesWorking Safely with Nanomaterials” is a new four-page PDF fact sheet published by OSHA. It can be downloaded at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA_FS-3634.pdf

According to the fact sheet: “Workers who use nanotechnology in research or production processes may be exposed to nanomaterials through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion. This fact sheet provides basic information to workers and employers on the most current understanding of potential hazards associated with this rapidly-developing technology and highlights measures to control exposure to nanomaterials in the workplace.”

Nanomaterial use may fall under either OSHA General Industry or Construction standards. OSHA’s Nanotechnology Safety and Health Topics Page highlights some of the OSHA standards that may apply to situations where workers handle or are exposed to nanomaterials. The General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, also may apply in situations where workers handle or are exposed to nanomaterials. States with OSHA-approved state plans may have additional standards that apply to nanotechnology.

Few occupational exposure limits exist specificallyfor nanomaterials. Certain nanoparticles may be more hazardous than larger particles of the same substance. Therefore, existing occupational exposure limits for a substance may not provide adequate protection from nanoparticles of that substance. However, some specific exposure limits already exist.

For example:

• OSHA recommends that worker exposure to respirable carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofibers not exceed 7.0 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average, based on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) proposed Recommended Exposure Limit (REL).

• OSHA recommends that worker exposure to nanoscale particles of TiO2 not exceed NIOSH’s 0.3 milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) REL. By contrast, NIOSH’s REL for fine-sized TiO2 (particle size greater than 100 nm) is 2.4 mg/m3.

Because exposure limits for other nanomaterials do not exist yet, employers should minimize worker exposure by using the hazard control measures and best practices identified in the fact sheet and in the fact sheet references noted under “Resources.”

According to OSHA, employers should check with manufacturers of chemicals and materials used in their workplace to determine if unbound engineered nanomaterials are present. The potential for nanomaterials to pose health or safety hazards is greater if the nanomaterials are easily dispersed (such as in powders, sprays, or droplets) or are not isolated or contained.

In workplaces where workers will be exposed to nanomaterials, the employer should provide information and training to their workers. This information and training should include at least the following:

• Identification of nanomaterials the employer uses and the processes in which they are used;

• Results from any exposure assessments conducted at the work site;

• Identification of engineering and administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce exposure to nanomaterials;

• The use and limitations of PPE; and

• Emergency measures to take in the event of a nanomaterial spill or release.

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