19 December

Assessing the effectiveness of nano-specific soft regulation serving to support OHS

Location: Ravelijn, RA 1247

Speaker: Aline Reichow


Emerging nanomaterials pose a regulatory challenge. Worldwide more than 500 companies in 30 countries fabricate products containing nanomaterials; in the EU alone 300,000 to 400,000 jobs are directly involved in nanotechnology (EU-OSHA 2012). In the absence of nano-specific legislation, nanomaterials handled at workplaces currently fall under general occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. Employers in most legal jurisdictions worldwide are required to provide data on the (potential) health risks of nanomaterials handled at workplaces. To this end employers have to carry out risk assessment for nanomaterials: according to OHS methods risk assessment traditionally follows the process of hazard identification, hazard characterization, exposure assessment and risk characterization (OECD 2012: 14; NRC 1983: 191).

However, the application of this approach to nanomaterials is difficult as hazards cannot be identified clearly. Against this background, and to support employers in ensuring health and safety at workplaces where nanomaterials are handled, regulatory bodies have introduced various forms of soft regulation for nanomaterials. Such soft regulation comprises standards, benchmarks, codes of conducts and guidelines (Meili & Widmer 2010: 447) which may be established by public and private bodies (Zumbansen 2011: 53-54). Soft regulation refers to rules of conduct that in principle have no legally binding force, but which nevertheless have effects in legal practice (Senden 2004: 112; Snyder 1995; Trubek et al. 2006).

A vast number of nano-specific soft instruments have been proposed worldwide. At the same time, the effectiveness of these instruments in securing OHS is an uncertain matter as compliance rates on the part of the regulated parties seem to be underwhelmingly low (Defra 2008, NanoCode 2010). Since regulators increasingly draw on these instruments an important question to be addressed is: On which conditions does effective nano-specific soft regulation depend? In my research project I aim to answer this question by developing an analytical framework for the assessment of the effectiveness of soft nano-instruments. In doing so, I aim to shed light on the conditions that make up effective regulation. The framework will be tested in cases of nano-specific soft instruments.

In this talk I will elaborate on the conceptual, theoretical and methodological bases of my research as well as the reasoning behind the case study selection. Rather than providing first findings of my study I intend to highlight the various challenges I have been facing during the research process so far and how I handled them. In more detail I will talk about current challenges in the preparation of the empirical part of my research requiring more in-depth reflection and discussion.