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.

Exposure to biological agents may occur:

  • in jobs that include working on or with biological agents
  • in jobs that do not intentionally include working on or with biological agents but which may lead to workers becoming exposed.
Biological agents are divided into four risk groups.

The law divides biological agents into four risk groups for the purposes of assessing and managing the danger they pose. 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 and the Decree on Biological Agents stipulate that a list must be kept of all employees who, in their work, have been exposed to biological agents that pose a serious danger or a risk of serious illness.

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

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.

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.

According to the decree, the list of employees exposed to biological agents must include the following information:

  1. The name and occupation of the exposed employee
  2. The workplace’s field of activity and the nature of the work performed
  3. Available information on the biological agent the employee was exposed to
  4. Description of where and when the exposure event took place.

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.

The measures employers are required to take are determined according to the risk groups of the biological agents to which employees may be exposed to at the workplace. 

Duties of the employer in all workplaces where employees may be exposed to biological agents:

  • Identifying whether employees are exposed to biological agents through their work. 
  • Classifying the biological agents present at the workplace in accordance with the risk they pose. 
  • Conducting a risk assessment on all activities that may result in an employee being exposed to biological agents.

The employer’s duties in workplaces where employees may be exposed to biological agents that can pose a risk or serious risk to the employee’s health:

  • It is the employer’s duty to eliminate biological risk factors where possible. 
  • Planning and taking action to find alternatives to any harmful biological agents identified in the course of risk assessments or to reduce the risks involved.
  • Notifying employees and providing instruction on the biological risks involved with the work and safe work practices. 
  • Keeping the occupational health care provider informed and ensuring employees receive health examinations and vaccinations.
  • Keeping a list of all employees who are exposed to biological agents that pose a serious danger or a risk of a serious illness. 
  • Drawing up written instructions for handling biological agents in risk groups 3 and 4 and procedures for serious incidents and accidents.
  • Notifying employees of any accidents and dangerous situations relating to biological agents that have occurred and the actions taken in response.
  • Notifying the occupational safety and health authorities of any accidents and incidents that may have led to the release of biological agents and that could pose a risk of serious infection or illness.
  • Notifying the occupational safety and health authorities before biological agents belonging to risk group 2, 3 or 4 are used for the first time. 
  • Understanding the provisions of the Government Decree on protecting workers from risks arising from biological agents (933/2017) and the amendment (747/2020) to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (738/2002), sections 40 and 40a, and the Act on Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement and Cooperation on Occupational Safety and Health at Workplaces (44/2006), section 46b.

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), the amendment (747/2020)

  • 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 (748/2020, 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