IOM targets nanotechnology in Asia

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A HEALTH and safety consultancy firm that was spun out from British Coal in the 1990s is opening its first overseas office, in Singapore, and is targeting the growing nanotechnology industry, examining how tiny particles could affect workers’ health.

The Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), which is based in Edinburgh, already has about 140 staff in the UK and eventually aims to become as large in Southeast Asia as it is in its home market.

The IOM’s consultancy unit turns over about £8 million a year and aims to add £1.5m from its Asian operations within the next three years.

Phil Woodhead, chief executive at the IOM, said that the company will be targeting the traditional heavyweight industries in Singapore and South-east Asia but added that there had already been demand for its other services too.

“We’re looking at the health, safety and environmental impact of the nanotechnology industries,” said Woodhead. “We’ve established a lead in this area in the UK and Europe. There’s been lots of demand from the market in Singapore and so we’re taking our expertise there.”

Nanotechnology involves manipulating chemicals on an atomic scale to create different materials.

“Some of the nano-materials can be more harmful than the regular materials because they can go across membranes and into cells and into parts of the body that regular materials cannot reach,” said Woodhead.

“One of the materials that has attracted a fair amount of publicity is carbon nano-tubes, which are used to give strength and lightness to composite materials. There’s evidence that nano-tubes share some of the same harmful properties as asbestos, due to the size and shape of the fibres and their tendency to get into the body and stay there because the body can’t cope with them.”