niosh

Nanomaterial Exposure Poses Potential Risks To Workers

NIOSH recommends laboratories and research labs employ fume hoods to reduce nanomaterial exposure for workers.

NIOSH recommends laboratories and research labs employ fume hoods to reduce nanomaterial exposure for workers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently issued new guidelines for limiting employee exposure to industry nanomaterials, according to Occupational Health and Safety Magazine.

The report by NIOSH, the leading federal agency for safety and health recommendations regarding nanotechnology, includes a hierarchy of engineering controls for use during the development of nanotechnology in manufacturing and other industries.

NIOSH defines nanotechnology as modifying atomic matter to create innovative structures, materials and products. While knowledge of occupational health risks surrounding nanotechnology is limited, NIOSH said studies have shown low solubility nanoparticles may be more hazardous than larger particles considering mass basis.

“As we continue to work with diverse partners to study the health effects produced by exposure to nanomaterials, particularly as new materials and products continue to be introduced, it is prudent to protect workers now from potential adverse health outcomes,” NIOSH Director John Howard said.

Howard said the organization’s suggestions are crucial for making nanotechnology safe and to keep the U.S. as a leader in the global market. In lowering health risk exposure regarding nanomaterials, NIOSH suggests workers exercise certain precautions, such as using engineering controls.

“Potential exposure control approaches for commonly used processes include commercial technologies, such as a laboratory fume hood, or techniques adopted from the pharmaceutical industry, such as continuous liner product bagging systems,” the report said.

Nanotechnology labs most likely to use fume hoods

The most common control used by nanotechnology firms and research labs is a fume hood, according to a survey conducted in 2006. Listed as a key piece of equipment for handling nanomaterials, fume hoods are effective control technologies especially for labs. In the survey, two-thirds of firms said they used a fume hood to reduce nanomaterial and chemical exposure for workers.

In the guide, NIOSH recommends a chemical fume hood for the process or task of small-scale weighing for the nanotechnology industry. Small-sale weighing involves workers weighing out nanomaterials through scooping, pouring or dumping of materials.

NIOSH said fume hood operators should put hoods away from certain areas that are vulnerable to cross drafts such as doors, window and aisles. Workers should also have exhaust air discharge stacks pointed away from these same areas.

In addition to nanoparticle exposure during nanopowder material handling, laboratory fume hoods can also guard against sources of natural nanoparticles, such as tree pollen, and could be used for welding fume extraction.

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Report: Poor Ventilation During Electrical Cable Manufacturing May Result in Respiratory Problems

During manufacturing of electrical components and cables, manufacturers may want to determine whether their employees are exposed to high levels of toxic airborne chemicals. A health hazard evaluation (HHE) report published by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found employees at a facility that produced electrical power distribution cable accessories may have been exposed to chemicals during manufacturing that may result in respiratory problems. Manufacturing employers that may see reports of respiratory issues among their workforce may want to invest in fume extraction solutions to remove toxic airborne chemicals from their workspace.

NIOSH said employees were concerned about certain manufacturing processes – including rubber molding, plastic extrusion and soldering – causing them to be exposed to harmful chemicals. Previously, workers reported symptoms related to issues with their eye, nose, throat and respiratory systems. They also said they experienced dizziness and headaches. In addition to analyzing employee concerns in its HHE report, NIOSH said it evaluated the company’s the work practices at the facility as well as potential air and surface contaminants.

Workers at risk for excess chemical exposure

“Although the chemicals we measured during our evaluation were below relevant OELs, levels at other times may have been higher depending on varying conditions,” the NIOSH report said. “In addition, some employees may still experience symptoms when compounds are present at levels below the OELs. Employee symptoms despite low air levels of solvents could be explained by the skin absorption of certain chemicals (OELs do not take into account chemical exposure through skin absorption)”

Importance of ventilation systems to limit exposure

In addition to having some chemicals surpass the limit for exposure, the facility had a damaged ventilation system, which was observed to have holes and disconnected ducts. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, companies should maintain their ventilation equipment to optimize employee safety.

“Ventilation may be deficient in confined spaces, facilities failing to provide adequate maintenance of ventilation equipment, facilities operated to maximize energy conservation, windowless areas, and areas with high occupant densities,” according to OHSA.

Companies may want to make sure their engineering controls, which include ventilation, are working properly. NIOSH recommended that the electronics cable manufacturer fix its ventilation system and expand its engineering controls to limit exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. The report noted employers may want to install exhaust ventilation on drying racks to protect workers who may be exposed to chemicals from painted parts. They may also want to invest in fume extraction solutions that will remove air impurities and replace them with clean air for to ensure worker safety. 

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