Assessing the risk of nanoparticles in construction

30 August 2019

Assessing the risk of nanoparticles in construction 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.

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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.




  • Richard GurneyRichard Gurney

    Richard is the Global Head of the Construction Practice at Marsh JLT Specialty.

    Richard joined Marsh in April 2019 following the acquisition of JLT where he had worked since 2002. Formerly Global Head of Construction at JLT Specialty and also Head of Claims, Richard has worked in the London insurance market for 29 years. He accumulated extensive experience working with many of the group’s major Construction clients and on some of the world’s largest projects. 

    Past responsibilities also include being a non-executive director on the board of JLT India and overall responsibility for the wholly owned JLT claims consultancy, Echelon.

    If you would like to talk about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Richard Gurney, Global head of construction on +44 (0)203 394 0387.

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