1682d Improving awareness of nanomaterials among u.s. construction workers

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Abstract

Introduction

The Centre for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) has support from NIOSH to research the use of nano-enabled construction materials in the U.S. The Centre maintains a web-based inventory of 550+products believed to nano-enabled. The extent to which nano-enabled construction products have been commercialised remains unclear, however, because no U.S. regulation requires manufacturers to identify engineered nanoparticles (ENPs} on labels or Safety Data Sheets (SDSs}. Under U.S. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard, manufacturers of nano-enabled products do not have to identify any component that represents less than one percent of the mix on a weight basis. Given the low mass of ENPs, OSHA’s threshold may not be reached, allowing manufacturers to legally withhold information about nanoparticles. In 2008 at an EPA conference, the author recommended that OSHA require all ENPs to be identified on SDSs and that conditional language be included advising against using PELs for the parent material. Lee, et al. made similar recommendations about use of PELs in 2013 after evaluating 97 SDSs. They reported that 85% did not provide any nanomaterial-specific data. These authors developed a 2012 ISO technical report (ISO/TR 13329) that provides excellent guidance on preparing SDSs including identifying the nanoform components.

Methods

In 2013–2014 CPWR surveyed 79 experienced construction tradespersons with an 11-item written survey. The instrument was designed to gauge perceptions and level of knowledge relating to use of nanotechnology in the construction industry. The survey protocol was approved by CPWR’s Institutional Review Board prior to use.

Results

Survey participants from various locations across the U.S. self-identified with 22 different construction trades. Masons, plasterers, and carpenters represented the majority of those surveyed (58%). On average, the group reported having 30.5±9.4 years of trade experience and 13.3±7.8 years of training experience. Less than half of respondents (48%) were aware that construction products containing nanomaterials are commercially available in the USA, and only 13% knew of a construction nanomaterial being used on an actual construction job site.

Conclusion

This survey of construction health and safety trainers suggests that much more needs to be done to increase awareness of nanotechnology in the construction industry. Better risk communication and dissemination strategies focused on workers are needed. This isn’t an American phenomenon. Broekhuizen, et al. found even higher levels of ignorance of nanomaterials among European construction workers in surveys conducted in 2009. Positive trends can be seen, however. The European Trade Union Institute has developed training materials for workers. CPWR is providing awareness training to union apprentice instructors and developing toolbox talks aimed at specific trades. Some manufacturers have begun to develop Health Product Declarations for their nano material products. These innovative hazard communication tools may address the well-documented inadequacies of Safety Data Sheets.

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