New guidance published by the IOSH examines the growing use of nanotechnology in construction, particularly in items like self-cleaning windows and super-efficient insulation.
The report cites estimates that suggest by 2025 up to half of new building materials might contain nanomaterials, but warns that the current legislation around construction products means they might not be correctly labelled.
The IOSH’s director of professional services, Vanessa Harwood-Whitcher, said it is “vital that industry works together in sharing information about nanomaterials used in products more effectively”.
“Steps such as this will help increase our knowledge and make a real difference in improving occupational safety and health practice,” she added.
According to the report, some nanomaterials, such as certain types of carbon nanotube, are reported as being potentially harmful, although other nanomaterials and nanoparticles are considered much less problematic.
“Dust is a very significant hazard for those working in construction and demolition,” the guidance states.
“The use of almost all currently available nano-enabled construction products is unlikely to add significantly to the risks already present. The priority is to manage existing risks robustly. This should ensure that the majority of unknown risks are also controlled.”
Dr Wendy Jones from Loughborough University, who helped lead the project added: “With this research we aimed to get a clearer picture of the current status of nanomaterials used in the construction industry, and to bring this information to relevant audiences in a practical way.
“We also hoped to debunk some controversy and misunderstanding about nanomaterials and their risks.
“The team found that nanomaterials are used primarily in surface coatings, concrete, window glass, insulation and steel in different ways and to differing extents,” added Dr Jones.
“Some nanomaterials, such as certain types of carbon nanotube (CNT), are reported as potentially harmful, but these do not currently seem to be in common usage in the UK.” She continued.
“In terms of risk, even problematic nanomaterials such as long, straight CNTs will not be hazardous as long as they are embedded in a solid, stable structure. Risk only arises if workers are exposed to certain nanoparticles or nanofibres in the form of dusts or aerosols; this might occur during construction or demolition activities.”