Nanotechnology is seen as a future-oriented field which offers Germany significant market and employment potential. The increasing in-plant application of nano-scale procedures and materials necessitates deliberation of the associated opportunities and risks.
As illustrated by the example of green genetic engineering, the success of a new technology can depend on the timely debate, communication and transparency of aspects which impact on the safety of human beings and the environment. The German federal government’s NanoKommission has assumed responsibility for this task, and published two reports containing recommendations as part of the national NanoDialog initiative. The core component of its work to date is a paper detailing principles for the responsible handling of nanomaterials.
A key tenet of occupational safety and health (OSH) is the maximum exploitation of available opportunities is accompanied by the protection of employees from potential risks. It is therefore advisable for the principles of OSH to be anchored in company policy whilst nanotechnology is still establishing itself – and not retrospectively. The position paper (PDF, 24 kB) published by the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV) adopts the recommendations made by the NanoKommission and defines specific areas in which targeted prevention is to occur. Despite continuing knowledge gaps regarding some of the manifold properties exhibited by nanomaterials, the German social accident insurance institutions and their experts possess a wealth of experience in the identification and avoidance of risks of exposure to fine dust and ultra-fine particles. This also provides a foundation for the determination of measures ensuring the safe design of workplaces where nanoparticles are handled. Guidelines are included in BGI/GUV-I 5149 "Nanomaterials in the workplace". Additional information on ultrafine dusts and nanoparticles is available on the IFA website.
The primary aim in this area is to make existing knowledge available and apply it to practical in-plant scenarios. In addition, there is a need to contribute to the further development and clarification of outstanding issues in a way which promotes OSH and is compatible with domestic and international initiatives.