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Health & Safety Glossary

Biological Hazards


What are Biological Hazards?

Biological hazards refer to any organism or substance that poses a threat to human health. Typically, they come from living organisms or by-products of their activities. For instance, bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and toxins are examples of biological hazards. 

Biological hazards can cause severe and potentially life-threatening illnesses, such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, meningitis, and HIV. These hazards can spread through blood, bodily fluids, and airborne particles, and they often affect workers in healthcare, laboratory, or agricultural settings.

Woman taking care to avoid biological hazards in the workplaceIf you work in, or operate a lab, it's vital you take steps to avoid biological hazards.

The Importance of Identifying and Managing Biological Hazards


While many dangers may be visible, such as flames, sharp objects, or heavy machinery, some are not as easy to detect. Biological hazards, in particular, often go unnoticed, yet they pose a significant risk to human health, especially in occupational settings.

Biological hazards in the workplace can have a severe impact on workers' health and wellbeing. Depending on the level of exposure, workers can develop acute, chronic, or latent health conditions. 

Symptoms of biological hazards can range from mild to severe, and they may appear immediately after exposure or take months or years to manifest. 

Common health effects of biological hazards include respiratory illnesses, skin rashes, allergic reactions, and flu-like symptoms. Additionally, biological hazards can lead to lost productivity, increased absenteeism, and even job loss.

Identifying Biological Hazards

Identification of the biological hazards is the first step in managing workplace safety correctly. Biological hazards can come in various forms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. 

These hazards can be found in food and beverage industries, hospitals, laboratories, agriculture, and other workplaces that involve the handling of biological material.

The most crucial step in identifying workplace hazards is conducting a thorough risk assessment. A risk assessment is a systematic process for identifying and assessing hazards in the workplace and evaluating the risk level. 

By conducting a risk assessment, employers can adequately identify the biological hazards that are present in their workplace. After identifying the hazards, employers can determine what measures to take to manage these hazards effectively.

Managing Biological Hazards

Once the biological hazards have been identified, it is vital to develop effective measures to control and manage these hazards. Depending on the type of hazard or exposure, the management of biological hazards can be achieved through various techniques, such as:

1. Administrative controls: This includes implementing administrative measures that reduce workers' exposure to biological hazards, such as scheduling work around cleaning, disinfecting, or replacing contaminated equipment.

2. Engineering controls: This involves using engineering measures to control exposure to biological hazards, such as ventilation systems, fume hoods, and other engineering controls.

3. Personal protective equipment (PPE): Using PPE is a last resort and should only be used where other control measures are not feasible. PPE includes gloves, masks, respirators, and protective clothing.

Training Workers

Identifying and managing biological hazards also involves training workers on the health and safety risks posed by biological agents and how to protect themselves from exposure. 

Employers must provide workers with adequate training and information on the biological hazards that they may be exposed to, the risks posed by these hazards, and the precautions to take to avoid exposure.

Consulting with Experts

Finally, to achieve optimal results in managing biological hazards, it may be necessary to consult with experts in the field, such as occupational hygienists, microbiologists, and other professionals. 

Such experts can provide guidance on the best practices for managing biological hazards, including identifying, assessing, and implementing control measures.

Compliance with Regulations 

Employers must also comply with regulations and guidelines set forth by regulatory agencies such as OSHA, the HSE, the CDC, and other regulatory bodies. 

For instance, the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires employers to protect workers who may be exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials. 

The Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to provide information and training about hazardous chemicals present in the workplace. 

Employers must also follow guidelines regarding the safe handling and disposal of biological materials, such as those set forth in the CDC's Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL).

Manage Biological Hazards Better with EcoOnline

EcoOnline makes it easy for companies to manage biological hazards more effectively. It’s a cloud-based safety reporting tool that companies can use to record different biological hazards as well as the steps they’ve taken to mitigate them.