Biological Agents in Occupational Safety and Health

There are more than 5 million workers in Germany who are potentially at risk of coming into contact with biological agents in their workplaces. Such exposures can cause infections, the development of allergies, or toxic reactions.

Woman collects eggs in a modern chicken coop
© Uwe Völkner, Fotoagentur FOX

Biological agents comprise, for example, health-threatening bacteria, moulds, parasites, viruses, and prions. A full list of all the biological agents that are currently known would run to several thousand species, including their genetically modified forms. Given the extensive distribution of biological agents, they are not only present during activities performed in laboratories. Above all, contact with biological agents affects employees in the waste and recycling industries, healthcare staff dealing with infected patients, veterinary personnel, and workers on livestock farms.

Some biological agents spread infectious diseases and can therefore be harmful to workers. Others are not infectious, but may trigger sensitising or toxic reactions. This latter group includes a number of moulds and a few species of bacteria. They play a significant role in agriculture and the refurbishment of buildings, as well as other fields, and can give rise to sensitising and toxic reactions in the respiratory tract.

Challenges for occupational safety and health

Employees come into contact with biological agents of unknown composition at a wide variety of workplaces. Thus, challenges for occupational safety and health (OSH) result from the co-occurrence and interaction of multiple factors when biological agents are handled in the workplace. Factors such as changing work environments and climatic conditions have to be taken into account.

Risk assessment of biological agents

In the field of biological agents, the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin, BAuA) approaches occupational safety and health at multiple levels to protect employees against biological hazards. BAuA’s experts participate actively in the work of the Committee on Biological Agents (Ausschuss für Biologische Arbeitsstoffe, ABAS), helping keep the Technical Rules for Biological Agents (Technisches Regelwerk für Biologische Arbeitsstoffe, TRBA) up to date. In addition, BAuA operates laboratories where researchers develop new measurement methods and assessment tools, as well as conducting systematic fieldwork on bioaerosols in the workplace.

Further information

Research Projects

Project numberF 2584 StatusOngoing Project Consideration of humans as a bioaerosol source for infection control in the workplace - Quantification of proteins in exhaled air

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2583 StatusOngoing Project Investigation of the size distribution of exhaled particles in temporal relation to mask use

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2562 StatusOngoing Project Occupational COVID-19 exposure and infection risks: Analyses based on the Gutenberg COVID-19 Study.

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2545 StatusCompleted Project Work related investigation of the rate of SARS-CoV-2 infected and Post-COVID symptomatic people based on data of the health authorities in Thuringia

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2547 StatusOngoing Project Determination of exposure during phage application in pig barns

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2546 StatusOngoing Project Characterisation of bioaerosols in the fine dust fraction of indoor air

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2509 StatusOngoing Project Relative quantification of proteins in cell culture system exposed to biological agents by mass spectrometry

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2491 StatusOngoing Project Assessment and evaluation of the toxic potential of biological agents on the basis of respiratory tract-related in vitro models: Subproject II: Development of an exposure system for the assessment of volatile metabolites of biological agents

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2489 StatusCompleted Project Assessment of health effects by bioaerosols in case of mould

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2486 StatusOngoing Project Determination of the inhalative exposure to hazardous substances and biological agents during the commercial use of gardening devices

To the Project

Research ongoing

Project numberF 2470 StatusCompleted Project Biomonitoring of workers´ exposure to mycotoxins

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2441 StatusCompleted Project Analysis of bioaerosol-borne toxins by proteomics technologies

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2426 StatusCompleted Project Molecular differentiation of living and dead biological agents and detection of the tenacity of airborne biological agents

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2383 StatusCompleted Project Detection of airborne biological agents under difficult analytical conditions - background measurement and exclusion of inhibitory substances

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2356 StatusCompleted Project Exposure of hatchery workers to airborne bacteria under consideration of existing antibiotic resistances

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2350 StatusCompleted Project A model system of lung cells for investigation of bacterial pathogenicity

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2331 StatusCompleted Project Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in emissions from the industrial livestock farming

To the Project

Research completed

Project numberF 2330 StatusCompleted Project Exposure to biological agents at biogas production

To the Project

Research completed

Publications

Search results

(In)equality at the workplace? Differences in occupational safety and health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic and related employee health

Article 2023

The complete article "(In)equality at the workplace? Differences in occupational safety and health measures during the COVID-19 …

To the Publication

Bioaerosols in swine confinement buildings: A metaproteomic view

Article 2023

Swine confinement buildings represent workplaces with high biological air pollution. It is suspected that individual components …

To the Publication

Authors' response: Occupation and SARS-CoV-2 infection risk among workers during the first pandemic wave in Germany: potential for bias

Article 2022

This article is published in the "Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health" (2022).

To the Publication

BAuA recommendations for action on SARS-CoV-2

baua: Focus 2022

The BAuA recommendations for action on SARS-CoV-2 are intended to provide guidance on when infection protection measures should …

To the Publication

In Vitro Systems for Toxicity Evaluation of Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds on Humans: Current Status and Trends

Article 2022

Microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOC) are metabolic products and by-products of bacteria and fungi. They play an important …

To the Publication

Increases in health problems during the first pandemic wave - An analysis of occupational differences based on the German National Cohort (NAKO)

Article 2022

To the Publication

Increases in health problems during the first pandemic wave - An analysis of occupational differences based on the German National Cohort (NAKO)

Article 2022

The complete article "Increases in health problems during the first pandemic wave - An analysis of occupational differences …

To the Publication

Occupation and SARS-CoV-2 infection risk among 108 960 workers during the first pandemic wave in Germany

Article 2022

To the Publication

Occupation and SARS-CoV-2 infection risk among 108 960 workers during the first pandemic wave in Germany

Article 2022

Objective: The aim of this study was to identify the occupational risk for a SARS-CoV-2 infection in a nationwide sample of …

To the Publication

Target Mechanisms of the Cyanotoxin Cylindrospermopsin in Immortalized Human Airway Epithelial Cells

Article 2022

Cylindrospermopsin (CYN) is a cyanobacterial toxin that occurs in aquatic environments worldwide. It is known for its delayed …

To the Publication

results per page:

More about Biological Agents | Infection Control