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Biological Agents

Systematic protection for activities involving biological agents

In Germany, over 5 million workers could potentially come into contact with biological agents in their workplaces. This can lead to the development of infections, allergies or toxic reactions.

Biological agents include, for example, hazardous bacteria, moulds, parasites, viruses and prions. The known biological agents currently run to several thousand species, including their genetically modified forms. As biological agents are so widely disseminated, they are not only present in laboratory activities. Contact with biological agents affects above all those working in the waste and recycling industry, in healthcare, with infected persons, in the veterinary sector, and in animal breeding.

Some biological agents trigger infections and can therefore cause harm to workers. Others are not as infectious but can produce sensitising or toxic reactions. The latter group includes some moulds and a few species of bacteria. These play a significant role in agriculture and building renovation, among other sectors, and can cause sensitising and toxic reactions in the respiratory tract.

Challenges for occupational safety

Challenges for occupational safety result from the combination of multiple factors when biological agents are handled in the workplace. This means it is often difficult to assess the hazard, as many mixtures are of unknown composition. Workers also come into contact with biological agents in a wide range of workplaces. Furthermore, account must also be taken of factors such as the changing world of work and different climatic conditions.

Risk assessment for biological agents

With respect to occupational safety, the BAuA operates at multiple levels in the field of biological agents. With a view to ensuring health protection for employees who come into contact with biological agents, the BAuA's experts participate in updating the technical rules as part of the Committee for Biological Agents (ABAS). In addition, the BAuA operates laboratories in which researchers develop new measurement methods and assessment tools, as well as conducting systematic fieldwork in relation to bioaerosols in the workplace.