As another year comes to an end, it is time once again to reflect on an important component of the continuous improvement process: our annual review of the health, safety, and environment management system (HSEMS). At a rudimentary level, most HSEMSs can be described as sustainable and systematic approaches for identifying and managing risk. Before risks can be managed, however, they must be identified, profiled, and communicated to the organization’s leadership. Through articles published in the October 2014 and February 2015 issues of The Synergist, members of the AIHA Nanotechnology Working Group provided a synopsis of how emerging technologies such as nanotechnology are creating a new class of advanced materials. These articles also discussed the economic promise of utilizing these materials and the potential risks associated with their introduction into the workplace. This article discusses nanomaterials from the end-users’ perspective. Users’ participation in the annual HSEMS review can help determine whether the introduction of advanced materials into the workplace is being managed responsibly. Although the concepts discussed in this article focus on end users, they also apply to any stage of the advanced materials lifecycle. The process most organizations use to evaluate the risk of introducing traditional materials typically includes review of safety data sheets (SDS) and toxicology literature, a reliance on professional judgment, and experience with similar materials. But this process may not be applicable to nanomaterials due to inadequacies in SDS content and a nascent understanding of which physicochemical characteristics may induce potential adverse effects. A primary concern associated with advanced materials is that existing risk assessment processes are inadequate. Historically, when new materials enter into commerce, not enough knowledge exists to ensure responsible management. Risk-averse organizations may delay adoption of advanced materials due to the difficulty of constructing risk profiles from incomplete information on exposures, health hazards, and emergency response. These difficulties are compounded by the interdependency of risk profiles developed to accommodate sequential stages in the lifecycle of advanced materials.
Responsible Management
Nanotechnology and HSE Management Systems