Biologial agents - Yleistä

 

General information on topic

There are biological agents present in many different kinds of work environments. They are most often found in the agricultural sector, the wood processing industry, the energy sector, the waste processing industry, the metal and food processing industries as well as the health care and medical sector and laboratories. Exposure can occur through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact. Exposure to biological agents can be harmful to health.

Biological agents are divided into four risk groups.

Biological agents are divided into four groups for risk assessment and management purposes. The risk groups determine which actions are necessary according to the applicable Government Decree, such as prevention, advance notices and health examinations. The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act also stipulates that a list must be kept of all employees who have been exposed to biological agents that pose a serious danger or a risk of a serious illness through their work.

Ways to mitigate biological hazards

Employers whose employees are exposed to biological agents through their work have an obligation to investigate and identify the risks posed by the biological agents present, evaluate their impact on their employees’ safety and health and take any necessary action.

The use of dangerous biological agents must be avoided and safe or less dangerous alternatives used instead whenever possible.

Training and instruction of employees and notices of special circumstances

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that their employees are given information and instruction on

  • the potential risks posed by biological agents to health
  • precautions to prevent exposure
  • hygiene requirements
  • the use of protective devices and clothing
  • how to act in an emergency, and
  • ways to prevent incidents.

Employers must draw up written instructions for handling biological agents in risk groups 3 and 4 and procedures for serious incidents and accidents.

List of exposed employees and notices

Employers must keep a list of all employees of theirs who are exposed to biological agents that pose a serious danger or a risk of a serious illness through their work. The list must be kept for a period of at least 10 years and, in some circumstances, for 40 years.

Occupational safety and health authorities must be notified before biological agents belonging to risk group 2, 3 or 4 are used for the first time. Notice must be given at least 30 days before the work is due to begin.

Employers must also immediately notify occupational safety and health authorities of all accidents and incidents that could have led to the release of biological agents and that could pose a risk of a serious infection or illness.

Biologial agents - Työntekijälle

 

Instructions for employee

Every member of the work community must be familiar with the risks posed by any biological agents involved in their work and safe procedures.

If there are biological risk factors present in your workplace, follow your employer’s instructions, advice and procedures. Always ask your employer if you are unsure about anything!

Remember to tell your line manager or a member of the occupational safety and health organisation about every accident and incident that involves biological agents.

You can ask to see a copy of your employer’s list of employees who have been exposed to biological agents that pose a serious danger or a risk of a serious illness through their work in order to check your own information.

Employees who are exposed to biological agents are entitled to regular health examinations by their employer’s occupational health care provider. Make sure that you get checked out regularly. Also ask your employer’s occupational health care provider to ensure that you are given all necessary vaccinations.

If you are pregnant and your work involves handling chemicals or sources of radiation or comes with a risk of an infectious disease or something else that can put your or the foetus’s health in danger, you are entitled to request a transfer to less dangerous duties if the risk cannot be eliminated. If other work cannot be assigned to you, ask whether you can take special maternity leave.

Biologial agents - Työnantajalle

 

Instructions for employer

Biological agents pose a special risk of illness, which is why cooperation with occupational health care professionals is vital for ensuring, among other things, that all the necessary vaccines are available. Employers must also factor in any pregnant employees of theirs.

It is the employer’s duty to eliminate all biological risk factors that can be eliminated.

Employers’ duties in workplaces where employees can be exposed to biological agents include

  • identifying whether employees are exposed to biological agents through their work
  • determining the risk groups of the biological risk factors present in the workplace
  • notifying occupational safety and health authorities before biological agents belonging to risk group 2, 3 or 4 are used for the first time
  • carrying out risk assessments of all activities that can expose employees to biological agents (and keeping a copy of the assessment and justifications for the findings)
  • planning and taking action to find alternatives for any harmful biological agents identified in the course of risk assessments or to reduce the risks involved (taking the risk groups of the biological agents into account)
  • providing employees with information and instruction on the biological risks involved in their work and on safe procedures
  • drawing up procedures for notifying employees of special circumstances (including at least procedures for emergencies and accidents as well as for handling biological agents belonging to risk groups 3 and 4)
  • notifying employees of any emergencies and accidents relating to biological agents and the actions taken in response
  • notifying occupational safety and health authorities of all accidents and incidents that could have led to the release of biological agents and that could pose a risk of a serious infection or illness
  • keeping a list of all employees who are exposed to biological agents that pose a serious danger or a risk of a serious illness through their work
  • keeping the occupational health care provider up to date and ensuring that employees have regular health examinations and get all their vaccinations, and
  • understanding the provisions of the Government Decree on protecting workers from risks arising from biological agents (933/2017), sections 40 and 40a of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002) and section 46b of the Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces (44/2006).

Employers must also immediately notify occupational safety and health authorities of all accidents and incidents that could have led to the release of biological agents and that could pose a risk of a serious infection or illness.

Biologial agents - Lainsäädäntö

 

Legislation

Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002)

  • Section 40 – Biological agents
  • Section 40a – List of employees exposed to biological agents Government Decree on protecting workers from risks arising from biological agents (933/2017)

Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces (44/2006)

  • Section 46b – Reporting incidents Decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on the classification of biological agents (921/2010)

Government Decree on the List of Occupational Diseases (769/2015, in Finnish)

  • Annex: Biological agents and diseases with a probable causal link to biological agents Government

Decree on medical examinations in work that presents a special risk of illness (1485/2001)

Employment Contracts Act (55/2001)

  • Chapter 2, section 3 – Transferring of pregnant employees to other duties

Health Insurance Act (1224/2004)

  • Chapter 9, section 4 – Special maternity allowance

Government Decree on the implementation of the Health Insurance Act (1335/2004, in Finnish)

  • Chapter 1, section 1 – Eligibility for special maternity allowance and list of infectious diseases that entitle employees to special maternity leave

Government Decree on medical examinations in work that presents a special risk of illness (1485/2001)

  • Health checks on employees who are exposed to biological agents

Decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on vaccinations (149/2017)

Biologial agents - Sanasto

Glossary

Biological agent Any micro-organism, including any genetically modified micro-organism, cell culture or human parasite that can cause an infection, an allergy or a toxic reaction
Micro-organism Any cellular or non-cellular microbiological structure capable of replication or of transferring genetic material
Cell culture The process by which cells from multicellular organisms are grown in a growth medium