Occupational health

WHO Guidelines on Nanomaterials
and Worker's Health

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 World Health Assembly identified the assessment of health impacts of new technologies, work processes and products as one of the activities under the Global Plan of Action on Workers Health, adopted in 2007, and the WHO Global Network of Collaborating Centres in Occupational Health has selected manufactured nanoparticles as a key focus of their activity.

To address occupational risks of nanomaterials, 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. The guidelines will incorporate elements of risk assessment and risk management and contextual issues. They will provide recommendations to improve occupational safety and protect the health of workers using nanomaterials in all countries and especially in low and middle-income countries.

Courtesy of U.S. NIOSH

The development of WHO NANOH Guidelines is presently funded through in-kind contributions from WHO, U.S. NIOSH and global experts from a wide range of countries and organizations. There is a critical need 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, drafting and translating guidelines and implementation documents, and pilot testing. These activities will be spread over two years starting in 2012 for the development of the guidelines with an additional year for the implementation phase. WHO would like to initiate a dialogue with potential sponsors to explore possibilities for additional support for this project. Potential sponsors are invited to contact the project at nanohealth@who.int.

The process for guideline development includes the following steps:

1. Establish a Guideline Development Group and an External Review Group, which reflect the diversity of manufactured nanomaterials and manufacturing processes on the global scale and the cultural differences in workplace safety. The Guideline Development Group oversees important elements in the guideline development process such as drafting guideline text, while the External Review Group is tasked with critical review of the scientific evidence and of the text of the guidelines.

2. Prepare a background document proposing content and focus of the Guidelines. This background document is used by the Guideline Development Group to identify key questions to be addressed by the Guidelines.

3. Prepare systematic review papers for each key question.

4. Prepare guideline recommendations.

5. Conduct an implementation phase of the project encompassing preparation of a user-friendly implementation guide and pilot implementation projects in selected countries.

WHO is in the process of identifying scientific knowledge and expertise on nanomaterials and health to contribute to this initiative. We invite the submission of relevant scientific publications and references in addition to those already mentioned in the background document, as well as expressions of interest to support this project, which can be sent to nanohealth@who.int.

WHO is also seeking additional support for this important project. We welcome expressions of interest to support this project, which also can be sent to nanohealth@who.int.