Safe Use of Nickel in the Workplace

The publication Safe Use of Nickel in the Workplace addresses the health and safety of those persons who are exposed to various types and forms of nickel-containing materials in the workplace.

It is not intended to be relied upon as a definitive or exhaustive statement with respect to all aspects of the safe use of nickel in the workplace.

This is the third Edition of Safe Use of Nickel in the Workplace and is designed to inform downstream users of nickel about the anticipated outcome of the European Nickel Risk Assessment.

Evolving Knowledge

Given the constant importance of nickel to industrialized societies, an updated guide to evaluating workplace exposures was deemed essential. The first edition of the Guide was prepared in 1993 by the Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association (NiPERA) in collaboration with the Nickel Development Institute (now the Nickel Institute). The second edition was published in 1997, and was followed up with online revisions in 2002 and 2004. The current version is the third to appear in print, and reflects the evolving knowledge of the health concerns associated with working with nickel and its compounds, especially in the period following the launch of the European Nickel Risk Assessment.

Safe Handling

The Guide was written for persons who are responsible for the health maintenance of workers exposed to nickel, its compounds and alloys. These include operational managers, business managers, industrial hygienists, occupational health nurses, physicians, joint occupational health and safety committees, and other health professionals. The Guide aims not only to educate these individuals about the potential hazards associated with exposure to various forms of nickel but also to instruct them in the safe handling of nickel-containing substances in the workplace.

Risk Assessment: Turning the Page

The European Nickel Risk Assessment, which began in 1996 and ended in May 2008, covered the risks posed by certain nickel substances to humans and the environment. The in-depth program was conducted under the Existing Substances Regulation, the European program for evaluating risks from chemical substances introduced to the European market prior to 1981.

The scope of the European Nickel Risk Assessment was wide, its goal being to protect the general population, workers, consumers, as well as the natural environment (air, soil, water and sediments). The method for doing so involved evaluating and controlling exposure to selected nickel compounds: nickel metal, nickel sulphate, nickel chloride, nickel nitrate, nickel carbonate, nickel sulphides (Ni3S2 and NiS) and nickel oxides (NiO, NiO2O3 and NiO2).

Notable Changes

The most notable changes in the Third Edition of Safe Use of Nickel in the Workplace occur in Chapter 5, which deals with the toxicity of nickel compounds.

Less extensive changes occur in chapters 2, 3, 4 and 9, which cover production and use, sources of exposure, pharmacokinetics of nickel compounds, and limit values and hazard communication, respectively. Some revisions also are to be found in chapters 6, 7 and 8, which are about assessing the risks of workers exposed to nickel, workplace surveillance, and control measures, respectively. Additional instructional materials are provided in appendices.

The most significant revisions include:

  • Reclassification of all the nickel compounds included in the European Nickel Risk Assessment (except metallic nickel) as human carcinogens by inhalation (pages 74-75 of the Guide).
  • Conversion of the European classification system to the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for classification and labeling (summarized on page 76 of the Guide).
  • Discussion of new research findings, including:
    - Work by A. Vaktskjold, et al. (2006, 2007, 2008a, 2008b) that shows no correlation between nickel exposure and reproductive impairment (pages 44-45 of the Guide).
    - Work initiated by NiPERA (2004) and Kirkpatrick (2002, 2004) that shows that nickel metal powder is not likely to be a human carcinogen by any route of exposure (page 35).