Occupational health

WHO guidelines on protecting workers from potential risks of manufactured nanomaterials


Publication details

Number of pages: 94
Publication date: 2017
Languages: English
ISBN: 9789241550048



The term nanomaterials refers to materials that have at least one dimension (height, width or length) that is smaller than 100 nanometres (10−7 metre), which is about the size of a virus particle. This particular size dimension represents a major characteristic of manufactured nanomaterials (MNMs). The unique properties of MNMs may result in better paints, better drugs and faster electronics. However, for the same reason, MNMs may also present health hazards that differ from those of the substance in bulk form, and may require different test methods for hazard, exposure and risk assessment from their bulk material counterparts.

There is currently a paucity of precise information about human exposure pathways for MNMs, their fate in the human body and their ability to induce unwanted biological effects such as generation of oxidative stress. Data from in vitro, animal and human MNM inhalation studies are available for only a few MNMs. So far, no long-term adverse health effects in humans have been observed. This could be due to the recent introduction of MNMs, the precautionary approach to avoid exposure and ethical concerns about conducting studies on humans. Health recommendations must, therefore, be based on extrapolation of the evidence from in vitro, animal or other studies from fields that involve exposure to nanoscale particles, such as air pollution, to the possible effects in humans. Workers in all countries will be at the front line of exposure to these materials, placing them at increased risk for potential adverse health effects.

Therefore, WHO proposes these guidelines to policy makers and professionals in the field of occupational health and safety with recommendations on how best to protect workers from the potential risks of MNMs.

List of related reviews

Review 1

Landvik N, Mohr B, Verbeek J, Skaug V, Zienolddiny S. Criteria for grouping of manufactured nanomaterials to facilitate hazard and risk assessment, a systematic review of expert opinions. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology; 2017. Submitted.

Review 2

Lee N, Lim CH, Kim T et al. Which hazard category should specific nanomaterials or groups of nanomaterials be assigned to and how? Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. Full article [pdf, 445kb]

Review 3

Ioannis Basinas, Araceli Sánchez Jiménez, Karen S Galea, Martie van Tongeren, Fintan Hurley; A Systematic Review of the Routes and Forms of Exposure to Engineered Nanomaterials, Annals of Work Exposures and Health, 2018. Full article

Review 4

Debia M, Bakhiyi B, Ostiguy C, et al. A Systematic Review of Reported Exposure to Engineered Nanomaterials. The Annals of occupational hygiene 2016;60(8):916-35. doi: 10.1093/annhyg/mew041. Full article

Review 5

Boccuni F, Gagliardi D, Ferrante R, et al. Measurement techniques of exposure to nanomaterials in the workplace for low- and medium-income countries: A systematic review. International journal of hygiene and environmental health 2017 doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2017.06.003 Full article

Review 6

Mihalache R, Verbeek J, Graczyk H, et al. Occupational exposure limits for manufactured nanomaterials, a systematic review. Nanotoxicology 2017;11(1):7-19. doi: 10.1080/17435390.2016.1262920 Full article

Review 7

Eastlake A, Zumwalde R, Geraci C. Can Control Banding be Useful for the Safe Handling of Nanomaterials? A Systematic Review. Journal of nanoparticle research : an interdisciplinary forum for nanoscale science and technology 2016;18:169. doi: 10.1007/s11051-016-3476-0 Full article

Review 8

Myojo T, Nagata T, Verbeek J. The effectiveness of specific risk mitigation techniques used in the production and handling of manufactured nanomaterials: a systematic review. J UOEH. 2017;39:187–99. Full article [pdf, 1.3Mb]

Review 9

Von Mering Y, Schumacher C. What training should be provided to workers who are at risk from exposure to the specific nanomaterials or groups of nanomaterials? Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017. Full article [pdf, 187kb]

Review 10

Gulumian M, Verbeek J, Andraos C, et al. Systematic Review of Screening and Surveillance Programs to Protect Workers from Nanomaterials. PLoS One 2016;11(11):e0166071. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0166071. Full article