As technology continues to move forward, nanomaterials will become an ever-greater factor in manufacturing of all sorts of products. Because of their unique properties, they can be used to create everything from drugs capable of selectively attacking cancer cells, clothing that resist stains, ever more powerful electronic devices and construction materials that can withstand fire or flood.
Nanomaterials are created from matter at the nanoscale, which means their dimensions are between 1 and 100 nanometers (nm). A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, which is just above atomic scale. But as nanotechnology improves and nanomaterials make their way out of research laboratories and into the workplace, safety officials, employers and workers themselves should be aware that no one is exactly sure of the hazards posed by nanomaterials as yet.
In the past, assessing occupational risk consisted of measuring acceptable exposure levels and adopting control strategies to keep exposures below those levels. But currently, there have been no enforceable occupational exposure limits set for nanomaterials. That means employers must rely on observation and professional judgment, as well as consulting the resources available to deal with them. They should develop a strategy for risk management, and keep up with best practices for working with them safely as they evolve.
Because nanomaterials are so new, and there are so many types, with different characteristics and uses, there is very little information regarding the toxicity of nanomaterials, or the health effects of either short-term or long-term exposure. Occupational health experts say this means the goal should be placing such materials in the same category as the materials that require the most stringent control measures. In other words, assume they are extremely hazardous and treat them as such.
Employers have a legal duty to keep their workers safe, even if they’re working around materials with unknown risk, such as nanomaterials. Not knowing the health effects is generally not an effective defense when workers get sick or die. Federal and Texas state workplace safety authorities should be working to find out the effects of these materials on the human body and, in the meantime, devise workplace safety rules that limit exposure. Employers should also consider using alternatives and substitutes or develop an extremely closed environment to keep workers safe.
If you or a loved one work around nanomaterials and have developed an illness that can’t be explained, see a doctor. Then please contact the Texas Workplace Illness and Injury Lawyers at Hill Law Firm as soon as possible, to protect your rights. Consultations are always free.