Skip to main content

We are working to bring Devices, IT services and applications back as quickly and safely as possible. Some services are unavailable at the moment. Read about how to restore your device safely.

Biological agents

Healthcare workers may be exposed to a wide range of biological agents, for example, influenza, COVID-19, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis and HIV infections.

Exposure to biological agents can cause infection, allergy or toxicity.

Agents are classified into 4 risk groups according to their level of risk of infection.

These are:

  • group 1 biological agent means one that is unlikely to cause human disease to employees
  • group 2 biological agent means one that can cause human disease and might be a hazard to employees, although it is unlikely to spread to the community and in respect of which, there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available
  • group 3 biological agent means one that can cause severe human disease and presents a serious hazard to employees and which may present a risk of spreading to the community, although there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available
  • group 4 biological agent means one that causes severe human disease and is a serious hazard to employees and which may present a high risk of spreading to the community and in respect of which there is usually no effective prophylaxis or treatment available

Manager responsibilities

As a manager, it is your responsibility to:

  • have an understanding of what makes up a biological agent
  • do a risk assessment identifying hazards and risks of exposure to biological agents
  • ensure appropriate measures are in place to eliminate or minimise risks

Where there is a risk to the health or safety of employees, you must ensure:

  • employees do not eat or drink where there is a risk of contamination
  • employees have appropriate washing facilities including eye washes and skin antiseptic
  • procedures are in place for taking and processing samples
  • employees are given special protective clothing and equipment (where necessary)
  • appropriate responses are in place for emergencies such as spills and contaminated employees
  • training needs assessment is carried out to identify training requirements

See Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations (2013)

Employee responsibilities

As an employee, it is your responsibility to:

  • understand what makes up a biological agent
  • work in a responsible manner, taking care of your safety, health and welfare
  • cooperate with the regular review of risk assessments and control measures
  • attend training as appropriate
  • use safety equipment or PPE provided
  • report any defects in equipment and unsafe systems of work
  • report any incidents or near-misses involving a biological agent

See: Policy on the Management of Biological Agents in the Healthcare Sector (PDF, 851KB, 28 pages)

Risk assessment

Managers are responsible for assessing their employees' risk of exposure to a biological agent.

You must identify the nature, degree and duration of any exposure to a biological agent. Control measures must be put in place to ensure the safety and health of employees.

See:

Biological agents risk assessment form (Word, 67KB, 2 pages)

Guidance on completing a biological risk assessment (PDF, 182KB, 2 pages)

Training

Managers must ensure their employees get the training identified in the training needs assessment.

Training should cover:

  • the hazardous properties of biological agents handled
  • the level, type and duration of exposure
  • the circumstances of work involving biological agents
  • potential risks to health
  • precautions to safeguard yourself and others in the workplace
  • vaccines available
  • steps to prevent incidents
  • the process to follow where a suspected exposure has occurred
  • standard operating procedures (SOPs)

Vaccinations

Managers must offer vaccination, where one exists, for a biological agent exposure risk.

You should tell your employees about the advantages and disadvantages of vaccination.

Where employees do not wish to avail of vaccination or are non-responders to vaccination, additional control measures may be required.

Records of vaccination and follow-up treatment should be kept.

For queries on your vaccination immunity status contact your local occupational health service.

Health surveillance

Health surveillance is a system of ongoing health checks. It helps with early detection of ill health and identifies measures that may help.

Health surveillance is needed if:

  • an identifiable disease or adverse health effect may be related to the exposure
  • there is a likelihood that a disease or health effect may happen due to work conditions

The HSE and a responsible medical practitioner must keep health and medical records. These are usually kept for 10 to 40 years. This depends on the length of time of the exposure.

Work clothing and personal protective equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be provided where risks cannot be avoided or reduced by other control measures.

The manager in consultation with the employee must make an assessment of the hazards in the workplace to identify the correct type of PPE and ensure that it is appropriate to the risk.

COVID-19 risk assessments and guidance

Biological agents - laboratories

Guidance to support the review and updating of laboratory biological agents risk assessments during COVID-19

Health and Safety risk assessment to support the review and updating of laboratory biological agents during COVID-19

Acute healthcare settings (excluding laboratories)

Guidance on reviewing and updating biological agents risk assessments in all HSE Acute Healthcare Settings (excluding Laboratories) during COVID-19

Biological agents risk assessment in all HSE acute HC facilities (excluding laboratories) during COVID-19

Residential care facilities

Guidance on reviewing and updating biological agents risk assessments in HSE residential care facilities during COVID-19

Biological agents risk assessment for HSE residential care facilities during COVID-19

Health and Social Care Services

Guidance on reviewing and updating Biological Agents Risk Assessments for Health and Social Care Services Carrying out home visits during COVID-19

Biological Agents Risk Assessment for Health and Social Care Services during Covid-19

Information and advice

For information and advice contact the health and safety helpdesk

Related documents

Policy on the management of biological agents in the healthcare sector (PDF, 851KB, 28 pages)

Policy on the management and prevention of sharps injuries (PDF,885KB, 28 pages)

Clinical risk waste risk assessment prompt sheet (Word, 237KB, 3 pages)

Biological agents risk assessment form (Word, 67KB, 2 pages)

Preparation for the transport of specimens and other biological materials (PDF, 1.7MB, 58 pages)

Guidance on completing a biological risk assessment (PDF, 182KB, 2 pages)

Local occupational health contact details (PDF, 205KB, 8 pages)

Page last reviewed: 20/11/2020
Next review due: 20/11/2023