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The Law

The main piece of legislation that applies to infections at work is The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH)

Micro-organisms are covered in COSHH by the term biological agents. These are defined as any micro-organism, cell culture, prion or human endoparasite whether or not genetically modified which may cause infection, allergy, toxicity or otherwise create a hazard to human health. The general requirements of COSHH, i.e. risk assessment and prevention or control of exposure will apply to most workplaces. But there are also additional requirements for work with micro-organisms, in laboratories, animal rooms, and industrial processes, contained in Schedule 3 of the main regulations.

COSHH also makes reference to the Approved List of biological agents. The list classifies biological agents into one of four hazard groups (with HG4 being the most hazardous, e.g. Ebola virus) according to the risk of infection to a healthy worker. This provides the basis for laboratory work with the organisms by indicating what kind of containment and control measures should be in place in the laboratory. The list may also help other non-laboratory occupations in assessing risks by indicating the severity of disease associated with a particular biological agent.

The Approved List is not exhaustive, and if a biological agent is not included it should NOT automatically be classified as hazard group 1. The appropriate classification of the agent must be determined by a local risk assessment using relevant factors as described in regulation 6 of COSHH.

There is also other health and safety legislation covering specific micro-organisms:

Other Government Departments/Bodies also deal with risks from micro-organisms. They include:

Updated 2013-07-09