BACKGROUND: On October 31, 2012, the Canadian Standards Association adopted an International Standards Organization (ISO) Technical Report on the occupational safety and health of nanotechnology as a national voluntary standard. What role can this and other international standards play in ensuring safety and health of workers in the United States? In this commentary, we argue that international standards can play an important role in protecting the health and safety of U.S. workers exposed to nanomaterials until national regulatory standards are considered and adopted. INTRODUCTION: The pace of developing and adopting worker protection standards in the United States lags behind the need for these standards. Various reasons have been offered to explain the slow pace of standards adoption in the United States, and numerous ways have been proposed to speed up the process, but the pace remains slow. In contrast, international standards are playing a greater role in enterprise risk management in a variety of areas including chemical, food, pharmaceutical, and nuclear safety. In large part, this is due to the trade pressures exerted by the globalized economy. As more U.S. firms engage in the global economy, the void left by obsolete U.S. occupational exposure limits, or nonexistent standards for workers in risky emerging technologies, is being filled by more proactive international standards. Nanotechnology is an emerging technology where accumulating scientific evidence raises concerns about worker health risks from exposure to engineered nanomaterials. Data from both animal and human studies suggest that precautions need to be taken to protect workers from exposure to nanomaterials. International worker protection standards and guidance may play a positive role in protecting U.S. workers handling nanomaterials until appropriate national protection standards are developed and adopted.
Vladimir Murashov, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 395 E Street SW, Washington, DC 20201