Building safely with nano-materials

January 27, 2018
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Very small things can have particular properties that make them useful in all sorts of situations including providing water repellent coatings for glass and other materials, increasing the strength of concrete or improving the performance of insulation. As a result the use of nanomaterials in construction products has been growing. Some estimates suggest that by 2025 up to half of new building materials could contain nanomaterials.

Although they have many benefits it is also important to consider whether there are risks associated with the increasing use of such materials. Due to the presence of very small particles concerns have been raised that they could pose health risks, especially if released into the atmosphere. For example, similar to asbestos, very small particles could bypass the body’s normal defence mechanisms and penetrate deep into the lungs.

Dust is already an issue for the construction and demolition industries and can be easily generated by activities such as cutting and drilling.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) sponsored research by Loughborough University to look at where these materials are used, how widespread this is, potential risks and how workers in construction and demolition might manage these.

The research found that “more research is needed to provide robust evidence on the likelihood of free nanoparticles or nanofibres being released during construction and demolition activities” however “The use of almost all currently available nano-enabled construction products is unlikely to add significantly to the risks already present. The priority is to manage existing risks robustly.”

IOSH also recommend that construction designers and material specifiers should ask questions of their suppliers so that they (and the industry) can understand better where nanomaterials are used.

Based on this research a full research report “Nanotechnology in construction and demolition: what we know, what we don’t” and specific guidance for the construction and demolition industry has been produced. Both of these documents can be downloaded from the IOSH website at: