Nanoparticles will transform construction but more research is needed on their potential health risks. In our latest edition of Building Sight, we look at the increasing focus on wellbeing from an industry perspective such as how it could impact on the built environments we create, how technology is improving occupational health and the risk of psychological injury due to stress.
The world of nanoparticles carries potential for huge advances in the strength and performance of construction materials.
Meanwhile, 3D printing — also known as additive manufacturing — is expected to shift production away from standardized construction products to bespoke items that can be produced rapidly and far closer to site.
Materials that are expected to become more popular as the use of 3D printing increases include titanium dioxide (used in photocatalytic concrete to give it self-cleaning properties), silver powders (used in additive metal manufacturing and 3D printing), and silica (glass containing nanosilica gel that lends it good thermal and acoustic properties while cutting down on glare).
But such technological advances could also bring risks to occupational health that are, as yet, relatively poorly understood.
Nanotechnologies contain nanoparticles smaller than 100 nanometers and some, particularly where they are fiber- or wire-shaped, may be able to penetrate deep into workers’ lungs according to research by the University of Loughborough, funded by the Institution of Occupational Health and Safety in the UK.
In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive has issued a project proposal warning that additive metal manufacturing has prompted concerns about lung disease over the longer term, as well as the risk of ignition and combustion.
It is set to update best practice on the safe use of metal powders.
While such standardized procedures do not yet exist, they are likely to involve the elimination of workers’ exposure to these particles and ignition risks wherever possible.
Guidelines are also likely on the most appropriate forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protective equipment (RPE), although most experts in the sector consider PPE and RPE to be the last line of defense.