Working Safely with Nanomaterials - Guidelines

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1. Purpose and Objectives

This guideline outlines the hazards and safety considerations for work involving nanomaterials.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

Nanoparticle - any particle between 1 and 100 nanometers in size.

Nanomaterial - any material of which a single unit is sized, in at least one dimension, between 1 and 100 nanometers.

3. Guidelines Scope/Coverage

These guidelines apply to all staff and students at The University of Queensland who are working with nanomaterials, or chemicals, hazardous substances and other materials that are in the nanomaterial size range. This guideline explains the potential hazards that may apply to working with nanomaterials, provides information for their safe handling and describes the compliance requirements.

4. Guidelines Statement

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland recommend applying caution to nanotechnology processes, as there is insufficient information regarding the health effects of nanomaterials. Current scientific research suggests that exposure to at least some nanomaterials, engineered nanoparticles, nanodevices, or the products of nanobiotechnology, may result in harm to human health and the environment. Because the health effects and risks associated with exposure to these substances are not fully understood, a precautionary approach should be taken regarding exposure to engineered nanoparticles at workplaces, unless information is available to the contrary. The person in control of the nanotechnology work must ensure that health and safety is a priority during manufacture, use, handling, transport, storage, modification or generation of nanomaterials.

5. Nanomaterials Defined

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland defines Nanotechnology as:

  • The design, characterisation, production and application of structures, devices and systems by controlling shape and size at the nanometre scale.
  • The manufacture of nanoparticles or nanomaterials with at least one dimension less than 100 nanometres to give them useful chemical, physical, electrical or optical properties.

Nanomaterials are categorised by both size and substance, with nanoparticles considered to be those within the nanoscale, or more specifically have at least one dimension within 1 and 100nm. As such, a wide range of materials fall under the category of nanomaterials. This means a wide range of potential risk factors encompass nanomaterials, which may be based on size and shape of the nanomaterial but also of the fundamental hazards of the parent or base material from which the nanomaterial or nanoparticles were engineered.

Of the engineered nanoparticles, there are several types, including:

  • Carbon and inorganic nanotubes;
  • Fullerenes;
  • Metals and metal oxides;
  • Quantum dots;
  • Dendrimers.

These represent an incredible array of simple 2-dimensional nanoparticles (e.g. dots), simple 3-dimensional particles (e.g. spheres) and the more complex 3-dimensional matrices.

Unlike most simple particles, a feature that sets nanoparticles apart is their relatively large surface area relative to their small size. This is an important aspect, because this relatively large surface area gives these particles an unusually high activity compared to their small size, and consequently their potential toxicity.

Note: Nanotechnology is regulated through the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Depending on the physicochemical properties and/or or parent materials, nanomaterials may be classified as hazardous chemicals.

5. Risk Management and Risk Assessment

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland require that eight steps be used for assessing and managing the potential risks from nanomaterials and engineered nanoparticles used in the workplace:

  1. Identify the hazards
  2. Assess the risks
  3. Identify, document and implement precautions to control risk to people, property, and the environment
  4. Supervise and maintain controls
  5. Monitor exposure
  6. Implement policy and procedures to deal with emergencies, incidents and accidents
  7. Provide workers with proper information, training and supervision
  8. Carry out appropriate health surveillance.

Persons working with nanomaterials are required to identify hazards, risks and controls for nanotechnology through:

  • Documenting hazards, risks and controls (prior to commencing work) on the UQ Risk Management Database. Risk assessments should consider nanoparticle generating processes; activities which may produce nanoparticles as a by-product; and the safe handling, use, storage, transport and waste management of nanomaterials. The Work health and safety assessment tool for handling engineered nanomaterials should be utilised as part of the risk management/assessment process, with reference to the Nanomaterial control banding tool worksheet.
  • Maintaining a register of nanomaterials, including the type of research, work and manufacture involved. It is recommended that you use the template available in the Register of nanomaterial use and storage.
  • Applying the precautionary principle.
  • Appropriate labelling (e.g. nanomaterial,  parent or base substance, solvent/carrier solution, relevant risk and safety phrases).
  • Completing safety data sheets (SDS) to accompany any new or manufactured nanomaterials. The SDS should be created by the designer/manufacturer of the new nanomaterial (this may include the principle researcher).
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of current nanoparticle exposure controls.

6. Controlling Exposure to Nanomaterials

6.1 Inhalation

When handling nanoparticles, biosafety cabinets and fume hoods should be used to draw free nanoparticles away from the worker. Free Nanoparticles will normally be caught in draughts or airstreams, and as such they can be relatively easily collected and retained in standard enclosed ventilation equipment, such as fume hoods and biosafety cabinets with HEPA filters. If the nanoparticles  have an effect on the environment then exhaust from the fume hoods should be HEPA filtered.

When manufacturing nanoparticles the following should be observed:

  • Synthesis in enclosed reactors or glove boxes will assist in preventing airborne exposures.
  • Inhalation exposures can occur when processing materials and when materials are removed from reactors. Therefore these activities should be performed in fume hoods and biosafety cabinets with HEPA filters.
  • Maintenance on reactor parts may cause the release of residual particles and should be performed in a fume hood or Biosafety Cabinet with a HEPA filter installed.
  • Care should be taken when working with nanomaterials in solution, to ensure that evaporation does not occur, causing free-nanoparticles. If this is a possibility, then the work should be carried out in a fume hood or biosafety cabinet.
  • Work techniques should be slow and careful to prevent materials from being aerosolized.

6.2 Skin exposure

Since the ability of nanoparticles to penetrate skin remains unclear, gloves should be worn when handling particulates or particles in solution.

  • In all cases the material and thickness of the gloves should be considered. Some studies suggest a minimum thickness of 3mm provide better protection. If this is not possible, then double-gloving may be necessary.
  • The porosity and pore size of the glove should be considered, since some nanomaterials such as fibrils are more likely to enter via gloves such as latex which may have a porous surface.
  • For liquids, the glove should have good chemical resistance to the solute.
  • For dry particulate, a sturdy glove, such as nitrile or PVC lab gloves with good integrity, should be used.
  • Disposable nitrile or PVC lab gloves should provide good protection for most lab procedures that do not involve  extensive skin contact.  If contact is extensive, then gloves should be changed regularly (e.g. every 15 minutes).
  • There should be no exposed skin around the hands and wrists.
  • Check gloves regularly for holes, cracks, etc.
  • Wash hands immediately after removing gloves.

6.3 Ingestion

Ingestion is not normally a route of exposure in laboratory environments provided that good hygienic principles are followed:

  • Avoid hand-to-mouth contact.
  • Wear gloves at all times where there is potential for exposure to nanoparticles.
  • Wash hands immediately after removing gloves.
  • No eating, drinking, smoking, applying cosmetics, etc. in the lab or before hands are washed.

6.4 Injection

Injection of nanoparticles may be a hazard/risk if the work involves the use of needles, capillary tubes or other sharps.

  • The use of syringes and needles, glass Pasteur pipettes, and other sharps such as scalpels, razors, and suture needles should be minimised.
  • It is important to follow safe laboratory sharps work procedures, in order to avoid accidental injection.
  • Used sharps and contaminated broken glassware must be disposed of into sharps containers as soon as possible. The sharps containers must be labelled appropriately, puncture-resistant, leak-proof, and closed for transport. Containers must be located where sharps can be disposed of immediately after use.

6.5 Clean-up

  • Use dampened cloths to wipe up powders.
  • Apply absorbent materials suitable for the solute to large liquid spills.
  • Dry sweeping or using compressed air are never appropriate clean up methods.
  • Use a HEPA-filtered respirator and double gloves when cleaning up large spills.
  • Where the inhalation risk of a nanoparticle is considered high, spills outside of fume hoods and biosafety cabinets should be treated as if aerosol creation has occurred, and entry and clean up to the area should occur only after an effective settling period or with effective PPE (e.g. approved breathing apparatus).

6.6 Disposal

  • Nanomaterial waste must never be disposed as general waste, nor can it be sewered.
  • Dry nanomaterial waste should be contained in a sealed container that will remain closed.
  • When disposing of nanomaterial waste, including contaminated debris, consideration should be given to the nature of the nanomaterial, the solvent and the parent or base material.
  • If the nanoparticles are suspended in solution, consideration should be given to the nature of the carrier solution or solvent (e.g. flammable solvents are handled as flammable waste materials) as well as the parent or base material of the nanoparticles.
  • Labelling of nanomaterial waste must include both the carrier solution and the parent or base material, and identified as containing nanoparticles.
  • Proper disposal of nanoparticle waste will be based on the type of material and will be coordinated through university systems, in accordance with the UQ Chemical Waste Operating Procedure.

7. References and Useful Links

8. Contacts for Further Information

Occupational Hygiene Advisors:

University of Queensland Chemicals Store:

telephone extension 51418, 52345, or 52528;

e-mail at

Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael
Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael