Schedule 9 to the COSHH Regulations covers the special provisions relating to biological agents. These provisions are, in the majority of cases, additional to the other provisions of the Regulations and are directed at protecting employees against risks to their health, whether immediate or delayed, arising from biological agents.
Classification of biological agents
The Schedule enables the HSC to approve and publish a document Categorization of Biological Agents According to Hazard and Categories of Containment containing a list of biological agents together with the classification of each agent which it has approved.
Where a biological agent does not have an approved classification, the employer shall provisionally classify that agent in accordance with the classification below, having regard to the nature of the agent and of the properties to which he may reasonably be expected to be aware. The employer shall assign that agent to one of the following Groups according to its level of risk of infection and, if in doubt as to which of the two alternative Groups is the most appropriate, he shall assign it to the higher of the two:
Group 1 – unlikely to cause human diseases;
Group 2 – can cause human disease and may be a hazard to employees; it is unlikely to spread to the community and there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available;
Group 3 – can cause severe human disease and may be a serious hazard to employees; it may spread to the community, but there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available;
Group 4 – can cause severe human disease and is a serious hazard to employees; it is likely to spread to the community and there is usually no effective prophylaxis or treatment available.
Assessment of health risks
Every employer who intends to carry on any work which is liable to expose his employees to any biological agent shall take account of the Group into which that agent is classified when making an assessment of the risks created by that work.
Prevention of exposure to a biological agent
If the nature of the activity so permits, every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to a particular biological agent is prevented by substituting a biological agent which is less hazardous.
Control of exposure to biological agents
Where there is a risk of exposure to a biological agent and it is not otherwise reasonably practicable to prevent that exposure then it shall be adequately controlled, in particular by the following measures which are to be applied in the light of the results of the assessment:
a) keeping as low as practicable the number of employees exposed, or likely to be exposed, to the biological agent;
b) designing work processes and engineering control measures so as to prevent or minimize the release of biological agents into the place of work;
c) displaying the biohazard sign and other relevant warning signs;
d) drawing up plans to deal with accidents involving biological agents;
e) specifying appropriate decontamination and disinfection procedures;
f) instituting means for the safe collection, storage and disposal of contaminated waste, including the use of secure and identifiable containers, after suitable treatment where appropriate;
g) making arrangements for the safe handling and transport of biological agents, or materials that may contain such agents, within the workplace;
h) specifying procedures for taking, handling and processing samples that may contain biological agents;
i) providing collective prevention measures and, where exposure cannot be adequately controlled by other means, individual protection measures including, in particular, the supply of appropriate protective clothing or other special clothing;
j) where appropriate, making available effective vaccines for those employees who are not already immune to the biological agent to which they are exposed or are liable to be exposed;
k) instituting hygiene measures compatible with the aim of preventing or reducing the accidental transfer or release of a biological agent from the workplace, including, in particular: i) the provision of appropriate and adequate washing and toilet facilities; and ii) the prohibition of eating, drinking, smoking and application of cosmetics in working areas where there is a risk of contamination by biological agents.
In this paragraph, ‘appropriate’ in relation to clothing and hygiene measures means appropriate for the risks involved and the conditions at the place where exposure to the risk may occur. Special control measures are laid down in the Schedule with respect to:
a) health and veterinary care facilities; and
b) laboratories, animal rooms and industrial processes.