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Nanomaterials: Are Your Workers Protected?

Recently, the Center for Construction Research and Training (CPWR) published a series of toolbox talks discussing the emerging applications of nanomaterials in the construction industry. This series covers a broad range of topics, including:

Clearly, nanomaterials are going to play an important role in the future of construction. But what’s the big deal? And why is CPWR working so hard to publish advisory information about working with and around nanomaterials? As it turns out, getting a grip on nanomaterials today could help you avoid a citation from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) tomorrow. In this article, an OSHA attorney will discuss everything you and your workers should know about nanomaterials.

What Are Nanomaterials?

Nanomaterials are materials that are literally thinner than a human hair. Needless to say, your workers won’t be cognizant of nanomaterials in their vicinity, which means education is essential for alerting them to the presence of nanomaterials on the project site. They are typically found in paint, coatings, cement, insulation, and various roofing materials.

CPWR states: “When workers cut, grind, sand or spray nano-enabled materials, dust or mist containing the engineered nanomaterials gets into the air that workers breathe.” According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, some nanomaterials, such as titanium dioxide and carbon nanotubes, have the potential to cause cancer. Overexposure can lead to a variety of injuries and illnesses, sometimes sidelining workers for days, weeks, or even months at a time depending on their condition.

OSHA and Nanomaterials

Surprisingly, OSHA has yet to establish specific regulations dealing with nanomaterials on the project site. However, some believe that OSHA’s existing regulations related to respiratory protection (1910.34) and hazard communication (1910.1200) apply. OSHA’s General Duty Clause could also apply, but this is merely speculation and will require a real-world case to determine. Therefore, employers should brush up on their nanomaterial knowledge and implement some safeguards on their own to combat any potential citations. 

One solution to nanomaterial exposure is the use of vacuums equipped with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. Water attachments can also be utilized in conjunction with power tools to prevent nanomaterials from becoming airborne. Respirators with N95 or P100 filters can also provide some relief. To learn more about your legal obligations to OSHA or to have an OSHA defense attorney perform a third-party site audit, consult Cotney Construction Law.

If you would like to speak with one of our OSHA defense attorneys, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.