Reports and Studies

Nano-products in the European Construction Industry

01/11/2009

This report contains a study on the availability, use and health and safety issues of nanoproducts in the European construction industry anno 2009. A European survey among employers, workers and worker representatives from the construction sector, in-depth interviews with a number of involved key stakeholders and an extensive literature study led to the insights presented.

The awareness of the different actors in the construction industry about the availability and performance of nano-materials is very limited. This holds for the construction employers and employees as well as for the related professions like architects, construction engineers and customers of the constructions.

Only a limited amount of nano-products make it to the construction site of today, because of this lack of awareness and the fact that nano-sized ingredients are often too expensive to result in competitive products. Main product types identified at the market are nanoparticle improved concrete and cement materials, nano-coatings and insulation material. Though, intensive research and development is ongoing and future expectations are that the market share of nano-products and their diversity will grow because of the unique characteristics they do (and are envisaged to) exhibit.

However, these same products might pose new health and safety risks to the worker on-site, which science are only just starting to understand. Especially when the work involves the generation of nanoparticles or aerosols. Typical activities with possible high risks of exposure to nanoparticles are the application of wet or dusty nano-products, machining dried or prefab nano-products and cleaning or maintaining of materials and the equipment used.

Detailed information about the product composition and their possible nano-specific health and safety issues though, is generally lacking and the information available to the raw material manufacturer is seen to get lost while stepping down the user chain.

As a consequence, for the average construction company it will be very difficult to conduct a proper risk assessment and organize a safe workplace for its employees. A possibility of dealing with the unknowns themselves is to follow a precautionary approach. However, the development of a select number of tools to support construction companies in bringing this approach into operation (such as a registration and notification system, nano-referencevalues or good practices for a select number of high risk work activities) is advisable to support bridging the knowledge gap.