Understanding Hazards – Biological Hazards

Biological hazards are organic substances or micro-organisms that pose a threat to the health of humans and other living organisms.  They also include toxins that are produced by organisms.

Examples of biological hazards include:

  • pathogenic bacteria
  • viruses
  • fungi
  • parasites

Biological hazards can pose risks for workers in a variety of ways.  People working with micro-organisms (for example, in laboratories) are at a higher risk of exposure.

Other examples of work activities that can bring people into contact with biological hazards are:

  • working with animals
  • working with people who might be infectious
  • handling waste materials
  • working in an environment or with equipment that could be contaminated

Examples of common occupational infections that can arise from these activities include:

  • anthrax (natural host – farm animals)
  • hepatitis B and C (natural host – humans)
  • leptospirosis – Weil’s disease (natural host – rodents)

People working in  helthcare could be exposed to biological hazards through contact with human bodyily matter – blood, tissue, saliva, urine etc.  These substances may have a high risk of containing viral or bacterial diseases.

People working with live animals or animal products could be exposed to animal diseases and infections, some may have the potential to infect humans.

Exposure to biological hazards in the work environment can also occur when people are in contact with laboratory cultures, soil, clay and plant materials, organic dust, food, rubbish, wastewater and sewerage etc.