Engineered nanomaterials: toward effective safety management in research laboratories
Background: It is still unknown which types of nanomaterials and associated doses represent an actual danger to humans and environment. Meanwhile, there is consensus on applying the precautionary principle to these novel materials until more information is available. To deal with the rapid evolution of research, including the fast turnover of collaborators, a user-friendly and easy-to-apply risk assessment tool offering adequate preventive and protective measures has to be provided. Results: Based on new information concerning the hazards of engineered nanomaterials, we improved a previously developed risk assessment tool by following a simple scheme to gain in efficiency. In the first step, using a logical decision tree, one of the three hazard levels, from H1 to H3, is assigned to the nanomaterial. Using a combination of decision trees and matrices, the second step links the hazard with the emission and exposure potential to assign one of the three nanorisk levels (Nano 3 highest risk; Nano 1 lowest risk) to the activity. These operations are repeated at each process step, leading to the laboratory classification. The third step provides detailed preventive and protective measures for the determined level of nanorisk. Conclusions: We developed an adapted simple and intuitive method for nanomaterial risk management in research laboratories. It allows classifying the nanoactivities into three levels, additionally proposing concrete preventive and protective measures and associated actions. This method is a valuable tool for all the participants in nanomaterial safety. The users experience an essential learning opportunity and increase their safety awareness. Laboratory managers have a reliable tool to obtain an overview of the operations involving nanomaterials in their laboratories; this is essential, as they are responsible for the employee safety, but are sometimes unaware of the works performed. Bringing this risk to a three-band scale (like other types of risks such as biological, radiation, chemical, etc.) facilitates the management for occupational health and safety specialists. Institutes and school managers can obtain the necessary information to implement an adequate safety management system. Having an easy-to-use tool enables a dialog between all these partners, whose semantic and priorities in terms of safety are often different.