Biohazards 

Occupational exposure to biological agents is mainly regulated by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) which apply where exposure could occur as a result of:

  • working with biological agents eg in a microbiology laboratory;

  • exposure which does not result from the work itself but is incidental to it, mainly because biological agents are present as contaminants eg farming, refuse collection.

Schedule 3 of COSHH relates purely to biological agents and not only classifies biological agents in accordance with specific criteria but also outlines the controls that must be put in place, in addition to the general requirements of COSHH when working with biological agents, for example, displaying the Bio Hazard Sign, laboratory containment levels, notifications etc. Image result for image bio agent

In addition to COSHH, other legislative requirements that may apply are the Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations, the Human Tissues Act 2004, the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2008 / Specified Animal Pathogens Wales Order 2008 and the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 2009.

What is a biological agent?

COSHH defines a biological agent as: 

'a micro-organism, cell culture, or human endoparasite, whether or not genetically modified, which may cause infection, allergy, toxicity or otherwise create a hazard to human health'

How can infection occur?

Biological agents can enter your body by a number of routes which is why you must identify the route of entry in your risk assessment so you can put in place appropriate controls.  Infections can occur as a result of direct and indirect contact with a laboratory culture or an infected host’s tissue, body fluid, secretions and excretions.  For example, the main routes of entry into the body are:

Route of Entry

How

Skin contact

Absorption through the skin or via cuts, abrasions etc

Mucous membranes eg eye, nose

Splashes to the face

Ingestion

Eating, drinking, putting make up on, pipetting by mouth (not allowed!)

Puncture wounds

Needle stick injuries, broken glass

Inhalation

Airborne contaminants eg dusts, aerosols

Identifying Biological Agents

To identify if a substance is a biological agent, reference should be made to the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogen’s ‘Approved List of Biological Agents’.  This ’List’ classifies biological agents, placing them into one of four Hazard Groups with classification dependent upon the following factors:

  • Can the biological agent cause human disease?

  • Can the biological agent cause disease amongst employees?

  • Can the biological agent cause disease amongst the Community?

  • Are effective prophylaxis / treatments available?

Hazard Groups

The four HGs are defined as follows:

Hazard Group 1
Unlikely to cause human disease
Hazard Group 2
Can cause human disease and may be hazard to employees; it is unlikely to spread to the community and there is usually prophylaxis or treatment available
Hazard Group 3
Can cause severe human disease and may be a serious hazard to employees; it may spread to the community, but there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available
Hazard Group 4
Causes severe human disease and is a serious hazard to employees; it is likely to spread to the community and there is usually no effective prophylaxis or treatment available
NOTE: Only Hazard Groups 2 - 4 appear on the Approved List

The categorisation gives an indication of the inherent hazard of the agents listed and will determine the controls that must be put in place.  However, the categorisation does not take in to account the work being carried out using the agent eg amount, or whether there may be any additional risks to those who, for example, have reduced or compromised immunity or are pregnant.  This must be addressed in the risk assessment and some agents MUST be recorded on the University's Statutory Notification listing and receive use approval..

Biological Safety Officer

To assist staff and students who may be exposed to biological agents during the course of their work / studies, the University has appointed Dr John Latchford as the University's Biological Safety Officer.  As such, in the first instance, all enquiries with regards to biological safety and genetic modification should be directed to John.

Useful Information

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