Safe Work Australia (SWA) has released two new research reports examining nanotechnology work health and safety issues.

The reports concluded that while nanotechnology may have a broad range of valuable uses, the properties associated with engineered nanomaterials may give rise to health and safety concerns in some circumstances.

In releasing the two reports, SWA Chair, Ann Sherry, said that the perceived risks of nanomaterials and that a precautionary approach is being taken by the Commonwealth under the National Enabling Technologies Strategy.

"While the risk to human health and safety from a number of these materials and applications is low some nanomaterials are potentially more hazardous, for example carbon nanotubes,” Ms Sherry said.

“The National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) has recommended carbon nanotubes be classified as suspected carcinogens unless product-specific evidence suggests otherwise.”

Under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws all duties which apply to the handling of materials and to technologies in general also apply to nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. Minimisation of exposure to nanomaterials at work is essential until there is sufficient data to rule out hazardous properties. Research has shown if conventional engineering controls are designed and maintained effectively, exposure to nanomaterials can be significantly reduced.

As a result of the findings of these reports Safe Work Australia will prepare guidance material on combustible dust hazards including nanomaterials.

The full reports and more information on the work health and safety issues associated with nanotechnology are available on the Safe Work Australia website

The two reports form part of a comprehensive program of work on nanotechnology conducted by SWA since 2007.