By Panayiotis Karayiannis, Risk & Safety

A variety of fascinating achievements are being explored within EU funded projects, in the areas of innovative material development, new manufacturing route establishment, and application of novel processing routes, in view of introducing unique properties to the final products. We in IRES continue to be inspired by how much the boundaries of what can be achieved are broadened. However, the focus is not only placed in realizing improved performance, but also ensuring that a safe and green approach is maintained.

We are commonly faced with unique challenges to identify potential occupational and consumer safety issues that novel materials and processes may entail, given the newness of the technologies. Essentially, it is quite likely to run into shortages of data to appropriately classify the materials in terms of hazard and exposure potential.

Additionally, a dedicated and targeted regulatory framework to support studying these novel materials may not be in place, leading to data gaps and barriers in defining test requirements and  establishing regulatory compliance. Innovative advancements can happen so rapidly, outpacing the regulation and standardization evolution. This was extensively observed in the last decade, throughout the extensive development of nanotechnology and introduction of nanomaterials in consumer products. Data deficiency can lead to over- or under- estimation of health and safety risks, both of which can have severe negative impact for a product’s market acceptance.

We can gain a lot of lessons learned from the nanomaterial safety research efforts of the last years. The concept of Safe/Sustainable by Design nanomaterials is an important idea that has emerged and refined over the years of nanosafety work. Designing for Inherent safety had been previously explored and established in the process industry and medicine. The diversity of nanomaterials, as well as the wide array of capabilities in tailoring structural and chemical properties towards a safer product, enables introducing this approach within material design and development.

It can be argued that if Safety-by-Design principles are considered from the early stages of innovative material conception, quite many barriers to be faced in further steps towards market adoption would be avoided, without stifling the innovation process. This concept can be evolved and adapted to incorporate areas beyond nanomaterials, in the context of introducing inherent safety within a technology from its early stages.

In parallel to the dedication to explore technological achievements and develop new innovations, the scientific community can be equally equipped to timely define occupational and consumer safety issues, as a viable enabler of sustainable innovation. If we were all to embrace it, be it in a research or industrial sector, Safety & Sustainability by design could be a vital boost for the new wave of materials that will support Industry 4.0.

Overall, the vision is to generate public trust in innovative materials and ideas while supporting their rapid market absorption, through ensuring that a comprehensive evaluation to define any adverse effect aspects has been recognized and addressed from the initial stages of material design.