Risk Perceptions and Safety Cultures in the Handling of Nanomaterials in Academia and Industry

Marie Louise Kirkegaard, Pete Kines*, Katharina Christiane Jeschke, Keld Alstrup Jensen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Objectives: Work and research with nanomaterials (NMs) has primarily focused on innovation, toxicity, governance, safety management tools, and public perceptions. The aim of this study was to identify academia and industry occupational safety and health (OSH) managers’ perceptions and handling of NMs, in relation to safety culture.
Methods: Semistructured interviews were carried out with OSH managers at six academic institutions and six industrial companies. The interview statements were coded into five topics regarding NMs: risk comprehension, information gathering, actions, communication, and compliance. The statements were then coded according to a five-step safety culture maturity model reflecting increasing occupational safety maturity from passive, to reactive, active, proactive, and exemplary occupational safety.
Results: The safety culture maturity of the academic institutions were primarily active and proactive, whereas the industry group were primarily active and reactive. None of the statements were rated as exemplary, with the majority reflecting an active safety culture. The topics varied from a passive approach of having no focus on NMs and regarding risks as a part of the job, to applying proactive measures in the design, production, application, and waste management phases. Communication and introduction to OSH issues regarding NMs as well as compliance provided challenges in both academia and industry, given the increasing cultural and linguistic diversity of students/staff and employees. Workplace leaders played a crucial role in establishing a legitimate approach to working safely with NMs, however, the currently available OSH information for NMs were described as insufficient, impractical, and inaccessible. There was an embedded problem in solely relying on safety data sheets, which were often not nanospecific, as this may have led to underprotection.
Conclusions: There is a need for more structured, up-to-date, easily accessible, and user-friendly tools and information regarding toxicity and threshold limit values, relevant OSH promotion information, legislation, and other rules. The study underscores the need for politicians and engineers to collaborate with communication experts and both natural and social scientists in effectively framing information on NMs. Such a collaboration should allow for flexible deployment of multilevel and integrated safety culture initiatives to support sustainable nanotechnology and operational excellence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnnals of Work Exposures and Health
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)479-489
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

Bibliographical note

Published online: 10 March 2020


  • Compliance
  • Hierarchy of prevention
  • Induction
  • Nanotechnology
  • Occupation safety and health
  • Precautionary principle
  • Risk comprehension
  • Safety data sheets

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