The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU -OSH A) has issued a report claiming that workers do not have an appropriate understanding of the potential risks associated with nanomaterials. The EU -OSH A report concludes that nanomaterials are present in biomedical applications, molecular switches, textiles, electronics, sunscreen, paint, food, cosmetics, and other products, and that between 300,000 and 400,000 jobs in the European Union deal directly with nanotechnology and manufactured nanomaterials.  

The report indicates that nanomaterial exposure risks depend on the form in which the workers encounter the materials, with “free” nanomaterials handled in powder form that could be inhaled posing a higher risk than those embedded in a structure or product. But the report also warns that exposures to embedded nanomaterials could rise if the products are handled and processed, such as by being ground or polished, or at the time of disposal.

Noting that less than one-half of the European public knows what nanomaterials are, the report highlights the difficulties inherent in communicating nanomaterial risk, which include confusion over the fact that two materials with the same name may pose different risks, lack of complete scientific understanding of the risks, and lack of appropriate ways to communicate known risks.  

The report recommends not only product-specific efforts to describe potential risks but reliance on “influential and trusted intermediaries.” As the report concludes, “Different risk communication approaches should be used depending on whether risks are routine, highly uncertain or potentially controversial. Risk communication needs to be accessible, tailored to the target audiences (usercentered) taking into account their different information needs and preferences, concerns and value systems.”