Tool for control banding the risks associated with nanomaterials

Development of a control banding tool for specific risks in the case of nanomaterials

The properties of manufactured nanomaterials pave the way for a great variety of promising technological developments. However, there are many uncertainties involved in making a quantitative assessment of the hazards of and exposures to nanomaterials, which will only be resolved gradually through progress in scientific knowledge of their properties and associated hazards.ANSES is applying considerable resources to addressing these issues, and in 2010 producedan expert report on the development of a control banding tool for specific risks in the case of nanomaterials.

Control banding is a method combining risk assessment and risk management. It was originally developed in industry. This tool is proposed in particular to guide risk management whenever there is uncertainty concerning the input data needed for risk assessment (uncertainty about the hazards of nanomaterials and about exposure levels). It takes into account existing information, the available technical and scientific data, and is based on a number of assumptions.

In the area of occupational risk management, this method is presented as an alternative, iterative solution. New products are classified into"bands", defined after comparison with the hazard level of known and/or similar products, and taking into account the assessment of exposure in the workplace. In this process, a qualitative assessment of the risk is associated with a risk control band that offers the minimum collective preventive measures to be implemented in line with the estimated level of risk. It is therefore a tool that can manage risk in a graduated manner.

Faced with uncertainties relating to the hazards and exposures associated with nanomaterials, ANSES has developed a control banding tool aimed for use in the workplace.

Scope and limitations of the method proposed by ANSES

The control banding method proposed by ANSES’s experts can potentially be used in all occupational environments in which nanomaterials are manufactured or used (industrial workshops, research laboratories, pilot units,etc.). The proposed tool is particularly suitable for SMEs and SMIs that do not necessarily have at their disposal equipment for metrological characterisation, or the possibility of conducting the extensive toxicological studies required for a proper risk assessment process.

It is a simple, accessible method with a highly operational component designed to be integrated into an overall management system for occupational health and safety. Its use is nonetheless subject to certain limitations: 

  • this tool is only designed to be used for normal handling and use of substances at a work station, while carrying out an establishment’s usual business;
  • it is suitable for any type of nanomaterial, as long as the amounts handled are neither too diluted nor of excessive volume;
  • “control banding” can only be used to understand the health risks. This approach does not address any safety risks (fire-explosion risk), nor risks to the environment;
  • it is essential for the person using the “control banding” tool to have a sufficient level of competence in the fields of chemical risk prevention (chemistry, toxicology,etc.), nanoscience and nanotechnologies. The use of control banding without expertise, without critical scrutiny or support, can lead to false assumptions and therefore unsuitable choices of preventive measures being made, potentially inducing risks for exposed individuals.