Occupational health

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Protecting Workers from Potential Risks of Manufactured Nanomaterials

Vladimir Murashov (vmurashov@cdc.gov)

WHO is developing Guidelines on “Protecting Workers from Potential Risks of Manufactured Nanomaterials” (WHO NANOH). These Guidelines aim to facilitate improvements in occupational health and safety of workers potentially exposed to nanomaterials in a broad range of manufacturing and social environments.

Workers in all countries face new risks from manufacturing applications of rapidly advancing new technologies based on nanometer-scale atomic structures known as nanomaterials. The growing list of nanomaterial applications includes cosmetics, food packaging, clothing, disinfectants, surface coatings, and paints. Many of these nanomaterials are produced with simple processes and often in low and medium-income countries, which often lag behind in introducing occupational safety and health guidance for nanotechnology. Toxicological laboratory studies in animals have shown adverse effects such as inflammation and fibrosis in the lungs of animals resulting from exposures to some nanomaterials. Although strong human studies of exposure and response to engineered nanomaterials are not currently available and more research is needed to predict the effects of exposures in humans, sufficient information is available to provide interim recommendations and guidance about prudent approaches to nanomaterial handling in the workplace.

The WHO NANOH Guidelines will provide the basis for the development of an Implementation Guide of user-specific guidance and recommendations for four target groups: country ministries of health and labor; occupational safety and health agencies and professional associations; occupational health and hygiene professionals; workers and management. It is anticipated that the guidelines will be developed over the next two years starting in 2012 and finishing in 2014. WHO is presently in the process of finalizing the composition of the guideline developing group. In the meantime, WHO is exploring possibilities for external funding to support a broad range of activities associated with the project such as facilitating expert participation in project meetings, holding and sponsoring expert meetings, translating guidelines and implementation documents, and pilot testing.

Declarations of interest in supporting this project through other contributions are welcomed and can be sent to nanohealth@who.int. Further information about this project is available online at: http://www.who.int/occupational_health/topics/nanotechnologies/en/. For more information, please contact Dr Vladimir Murashov, leading the WHO NANOH Guideline development on the WHO side, at vmurashov@cdc.gov.