Risk management is an unknown concept to some and a vague or unclear concept to others. But, what is risk management? Risk management is good sound business practice. It's not glamorous, but it's the unseen and often unnoticed foundation on which businesses become successful. It's also a foundation on which businesses fail when there is lack of attention or poor execution.
If there was ever a year to illustrate the need for risk management, it was 2008. Homebuyers took on too much risk making improper assumptions about the value of homes continuing to escalate. When the balloon payment became due, foreclosure resulted. Businesses also took on too much risk putting the balance sheets, stockholders and the entire economy at risk.
Every business faces a multitude of risks. That's the nature of business; if there is no risk there is no reward. How do businesses manage those risks? Fortunately, for most business risks, there are well defined strategies for avoiding, mitigating or transferring risk in order to avoid the catastrophic impact of a negative event.
The risks presented by 20th Nanotechnology is a new technology that brings previously unknown risks to the workplace, the marketplace and the environment. The risks and rewards must be carefully balanced. The novel nano properties which enhance the features and benefits of products create additional potential risks for employees who make the products and persons who use the products. They also create potential environmental and general liability risks which must be managed.
Some of these new risks are known and quantified. Others remain unknown and unquantified even with a rapidly emerging library of toxicological and environmental impact knowledge. Since nanotechnology is process oriented rather than end product related, it cuts across almost all industry and market boundaries.
Nanotechnology refers to man-made, engineered structures between 1 and 100 nanometers in size that are controlled or manipulated at the atomic level. These structures, devices and systems have novel properties different from larger particles of the same compound. Changes in properties include color, electrical conductivity, catalytic interaction, strength to weight ratios and melting points, among others. It is these novel properties, existing only at the nano-scale, that allow physio-chemical interactions that enhance manufacturing processes and product features.
Nano-particles may be familiar materials such as metal oxides (Ag, Zn, Si, Ti, Au) or new, discrete, carbon structures such as carbon nanotubes and C60 Fullerenes (aka Buckeyballs). Also included are Quantum Dot (i.e., CdSe /ZnS) crystals. There are also repeatedly branched molecules such as dendrimers in the nanoscale. Each structure and its related size and shape, even for the same compound, has potentially different physio-chemical interactions. As a result, each has potential for different reaction within living tissue or the environment. century manufacturing techniques are well known. But, while there is much continuity between most manufacturing risks of the 20th and 21st centuries, rapid advances in technology present new risks with unknown and unquantified consequences. These new risks challenge both risk managers and environmental health and safety professionals.