ACTU calls for health and safety regulation on nanotechnology

Tuesday, 05 May, 2009


According to the ACTU, the rapidly growing nanotechnology market in Australia requires urgent regulation to protect the health and safety of workers and consumers.

Nanotechnology is hailed as having enormous potential in the creation of new products and devices and is now used in over 800 everyday items including some sunscreens, cosmetics, bed sheets, building materials and paints.

Unions are concerned that there is mounting evidence showing some nanomaterials are potentially hazardous, yet the industry is growing without adequate worker protections.

The nanotechnology industry is projected to grow from US$32 billion to $2.6 trillion over the next decade.

Currently, there is no mandatory register in Australia of who is importing, manufacturing, supplying or selling nanomaterials and no obligation to label products. But there are moves afoot internationally to introduce regulations. Research has shown that some nanomaterials may act in similar ways to asbestos.

ACTU Assistant Secretary Geoff Fary said: “With animal tests showing some nanomaterials share the same characteristics and reactions as asbestos fibres, governments and business must not repeat the painful lessons of the past and allow another tragedy to occur again.

“Existing laws and regulations were not designed with the unique properties of nanoscale materials in mind. A recent report from the NSW Parliament recommended this be addressed and we believe it should be done nationally too. Until we know more about nanomaterials, we should regulate as if it is dangerous to human health. It is the only safe option.

“Workers in manufacturing, retail, health, laboratories and textiles, and outdoor workers are potentially exposed to nanomaterials and the list will grow as the industry grows.”

Fary suggested that introducing regulations by the end of 2009 was a sufficient time frame given the pace of industry development and would coincide with the introduction of Australia’s new nationally harmonised health and safety laws that are scheduled in under a year.

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