Self-cleaning glass is now widely used in conservatory roofs and in windows not easily accessible. The IOSH guidance document says the roof of London

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IOSH Offers Guidance on Construction Nanomaterials

IOSH, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, posted a research report and new guidance this week on the use of nanomaterials in construction. The report discusses self-cleaning windows, very high-strength concrete, and thin, lightweight, super-efficient insulation as three examples of new building materials with properties made possible by nanotechnologies, and the researchers estimate by 2025 up to half of new building materials might contain nanomaterials.

The description of self-cleaning glass says it has a film of nanoscale titanium dioxide that breaks down dirt through interaction with sunlight to form debris that is washed away by rainwater, adding that this is now widely used in conservatory roofs and in windows not easily accessible -- the guidance document says the roof of London's St Pancras station reportedly is constructed with self-cleaning glass.

The documents discuss how nanomaterials are difficult to identify in construction materials because they are rarely precisely labeled, and a product labeled as "nano" might contain nanoparticles or nanofibers, might be based on nanoscale film, or might simply be labeled that way to make it seem new and different.

The guidance document contains a flow chart for assessing the risk of nano-enabled construction products. It recommends asking questions of suppliers about new materials with novel properties, balancing the risk and benefit during the design stage of a project, recording where nanomaterials are, and using standard risk control measures for nanomaterial-based products.

A research team at Loughborough University sponsored by IOSH produced the guidance based on their investigations into where these materials are used, how widespread this is, potential risks, and how workers in construction and demolition might manage them. The project was led by Prof. Alistair Gibb and Dr. Wendy Jones, both from Loughborough University.

"With this research, we aimed to get a clearer picture of the current status of nanomaterials used in the construction industry and to bring this information to relevant audiences in a practical way. We also hoped to debunk some controversy and misunderstanding about nanomaterials and their risks," Jones said. "We researched what information is known already and sought to pull together materials that would otherwise be inaccessible. We describe the nanofilms used for some window glass, silica aerogels used in insulation, nanosilicas used in concrete and coatings, which are the most numerous and readily available nanoscale products in construction. The team found that nanomaterials are used primarily in surface coatings, concrete, window glass, insulation, and steel in different ways and to differing extents. Some nanomaterials, such as certain types of carbon nanotube, are reported as potentially harmful, but these do not currently seem to be in common usage in the UK.

"In terms of risk, even problematic nanomaterials such as long, straight [carbon nanotubes] will not be hazardous as long as they are embedded in a solid, stable structure. Risk only arises if workers are exposed to certain nanoparticles or nanofibres in the form of dusts or aerosols; this might occur during construction or demolition activities," she added.

"Whilst there's still much more we can learn about nanomaterials, through this research we're pleased to produce practical guidance to help raise much-needed awareness for those working in the construction sector in particular, and support them in managing potential risks," said Vanessa Harwood-Whitcher, IOSH's director of Professional Services. "It's vital that industry works together in sharing information about nanomaterials used in products more effectively. Steps such as this will help increase our knowledge and make a real difference in improving occupational safety and health practice."

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