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Back to Bio-Basics

The words “biological hazard” make most of think of hospitals and laboratories – not our own workplaces.

In fact, every workplace presents the risk of biological exposure. Mould, yeast or bacteria live in many materials and thrive in a wide range of environments. Common sources of biological exposure are needle sticks, animal bites and air-borne organisms.

A biohazardous agent is any organic substance that can have harmful effects on people or animals.

The most common routes of exposure are:

  • Sharps injuries: contaminated hypodermic needles, razor blades and contaminated glassware.
  • Aerosols: dropped cultures, dropped animal cages, broken tubes in centrifuges, mixing procedures
  • Non-intact Skin: skin with micro abrasions and gloves were not worn or poor hand washing, cuts not covered
  • Mucous Membrane: Splashes to eyes, nose or mouth
  • Ingestion: Eating or drinking in contaminated areas (example: labs), not washing hands after wearing gloves and then handling food or tobacco products, applying lip balm or chewing gum in contaminated areas or after handling contaminated tools, products, etc.

Occupations at Risk

Food (cheese, yogurt, salami) or food additive production, bakeries 

Hazards/Risks: Moulds/yeasts, bacteria and mites cause allergies.
Organic dusts of grain, milk powder or flour contaminated with biological agents.
Toxins such as botulinustoxins or aflatoxins
Preventive Measures: Closed processes
Avoid aerosol formation
Separate contaminated work areas
Appropriate hygiene measures

Health Care

Hazards/Risks: Viral and bacterial infections such as HIV, hepatitis, or tuberculosis
Needlestick injuries 
Preventive Measures: Safe handling of infectious specimens, sharps waste, contaminated linen and other material.
Safe handling and cleaning of blood spills and other body fluids.
Adequate protective equipment, gloves, clothing, glasses.
Appropriate hygienic measures


Hazards/Risks: Infections and allergies when handling microorganisms and cell cultures, eg of human tissues.
Accidental spills and needlestick injuries. 
Preventive Measures: Microbiological safety cabinets
Dust and aerosol-reducing measures.
Safe handling and transport of samples.
Appropriate personal protection and hygiene measures.
Decontamination and emergency measures for spills.
Restricted access.
Biosafety labels.

Agriculture, Forestry, Horticulture and Animal food and fodder production

Hazards/Risks: Bacteria, fungi, mites and viruses transmitted from animals, parasites and ticks.
Respiratory problems due to microorganisms and mites in organic dusts of grain, mild powder, flour, spices.
Specific allergic diseases like farmer’s lung and bird breeder’s lung. 
Preventive Measures: Dust and aerosol-reducing measures.
Avoid contact with contaminated animal or equipment.
Protection against animal bites and stings.
Preservatives for fodder.
Cleaning and maintenance

Metal and wood processing industries

Hazards/Risks: Skin problems due to bacteria and bronchial asthma due to moulds/yeasts in circulating fluids in industrial processes such as grinding, pulp factories’ and metal and stone cutting fluids. 
Preventive Measures: Local exhaust ventilation
Regular maintenance, filtering and decontamination of fluids and machinery.
Skin protection
Appropriate hygiene measures

Working areas with air conditioning systems and high humidity

For example: textile industry, print industry and paper production
Hazards/Risks: Allergies and respiratory disorders due to moulds/yeasts.
Legionnaires disease 
Preventive Measures: Dust- and aerosol-reducing measures.
Regular maintenance of ventilation, machinery and work areas.
Restrict number of workers.
Maintaining high hot (tap) water temperatures.

Archives, museums, libraries 

Hazards/Risks: Moulds/yeasts and bacteria cause allergies and respiratory disorders 
Preventive Measures: Dust and aerosol reduction.
Adequate personal protective equipment

Building and construction industry

Includes processing of natural materials like clay, straw, reed; redevelopment of buildings 
Hazards/Risks: Moulds and bacteria due to deterioration of building materials 
Preventive Measures: Dust- and aerosol-reducing measures
Appropriate personal protection and hygiene measures