When one works with unknowns, it is prudent to take precautions to protect oneself along with co-workers from possible dangerous situations. If the circumstances are unknown, how can we provide the learning needed to understand the situation? Obviously, this is not a simple question to answer.
There are a number of steps that can be taken without knowing the exact magnitude of the risk. This starts with having a proactive approach to learning about the potential dangers, both real and hypothesized. This requires a constant search of the publications. It is possible to set up automated notices for new material that has certain keywords. Being proactive requires a continual search for additional knowledge.
Organizations need to have plans in place to address contingencies. This is probably one of the most difficult areas for emerging businesses. In a beginning business (a start-up), there is normally a lot more work to be done than there are available hours for the people in the company. There is no easy answer. It would be advantageous for a member of the company to have some background education in nanotechnology safety, but that aspect is just starting to become available. (As has been discussed in the last three posts.) Safety efforts are required. As more information becomes available to the general public, the people/organizations who fund start-ups will look for more documentation on how various aspects of the processes/materials being developed are controlled. The organization needs to have an understanding of the issues to provide adequate answers to any questions in this area.
Business education is still an issue. The vast majority of education or professional development courses have a “toxicity” focus. That is not the entire scope of the safety issue. In fact, it does not make a difference whether something is classified as a potential toxic material or it is an “unknown”, the methods for handling and controlling the substance are what is important. In many cases, it will take years to decide the appropriate classification. In the case of unknowns, caution and safety procedures are most important.
Rick Management is a complex subject, which we will try to provide an overview in the next few blogs. There are some basic concepts that can provide a basis for understand the topic.
- The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1971) defines risk as a “hazard, danger; exposure to mischance or peril”. Therefore, to put oneself “at risk” means to participate voluntarily or involuntarily in an activity or event that could lead to injury, damage, or loss.
- Voluntary risks are hazards associated with activities that we decide to undertake (e.g., driving a car, riding a motorcycle, climbing a ladder, smoking cigarettes, skydiving, formula one racing).
- Involuntary risks are negative impacts associated with an occurrence that happens to us without our prior consent or knowledge. Acts of nature such as being struck by lightning, fires, floods, tornados, etc., and exposure to environmental contaminants are examples of involuntary risks. 
One final thought for this blog. It is necessary to understand that Risk Management and Risk Mitigation are related but are not the same thing.