On April 26, 2017, France’s National Research and Safety Institute (INRS) published a press release announcing the availability of an English summary of a foresight study conducted in 2014 on the development of nanomaterials by 2030 and the consequences on safety and health in small businesses in France.  Four scenarios were envisioned:

(1)       Strong and successful commitment from both state and industry:  massive development;

  • Economy driven by innovation;
  • Strong state involvement;
  • Marked interest by companies;
  • Controlled health and environment risks;
  • An enthusiastic society;
  • Massive, global development; and
  • Suitable prevention means are generally set up in companies but there is a residual risk of transient exposure or accidents in poorly controlled work situations and difficulties for the ageing population to adapt to the pace of change;

(2)       Informed rejection by society:  development in a few strategic sectors:

  • An economic and political debacle;
  • Destruction of the industrial fabric;
  • Distrust of innovation by society;
  • Uncertain health and environment risks; and
  • Slow development, confined to a few strategic sectors deemed priorities;

(3)       Industry in the driving seat:  development in growth sectors only:

  • A morose economic situation;
  • Very limited political support;
  • A certain disinterest by society;
  • Health and environment risks not assessed;
  • Development heavily supported by manufacturers, but rationalized and targeted at growth sectors; and
  • Prevention of occupational risks is strictly handled by companies and is mainly oriented towards preserving the means of production. The response, mostly insurance-focused, is based on compensation and not on prevention;

(4)       Sustained regional will:  development based on local skills:

  • A strong and prosperous Europe of the regions;
  • Massive support in certain regions;
  • A peaceful and indifferent society;
  • Health and environment risks poorly studied and therefore not anticipated;
  • Development based on local skills: creation of clusters of excellence; and
  • Occupational risks are generally managed by local structures located within clusters of competitiveness. These regional entities apply the rules decided at European level, based on co-management between employer associations and employee unions.

According to INRS, the possible future outcomes “should lead to a better apprehension of the risks associated with these promising materials.”  The foresight study is one of three exercises that INRS has conducted to date.  In 2017, INRS intends to begin a fourth exercise that will address the circular economy and its consequences on occupational safety and health.