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Biological Agents

Petri dishes with sample material © Uwe Völkner, FOX photo agency

Hardly to detect using one’s sensory organs

Currently, more than 10,000 biological agents are classified in risk groups. They have very different properties and can normally not be detected using one’s senses. Regarding mildew, mouldy smell and visible infestation of objects or the work environment may be indicative of mildew being present. However, the absence of smell or visible infestation is not a criterion for biological agents not being present.

Difficult measurement

Regarding biological agents, measuring methods are subject to detection limits due to several reasons. Cultivation can normally only map a part of the existing biological agents, since individual biological agents have differing requirements regarding the nutrient and environmental conditions. Microscopic procedures may be used in order to make statements regarding the quantity-related occurrence of biological agents, but viability, species composition, and the occurrence of certain pathogens cannot be determined at all or only to a very limited extent in so doing. Molecular biological procedures for determining the quantity and the species may reasonably complement the methods mentioned and could be standardised to a higher extent for future applications.

Using the currently available measuring standards for biological agents it may happen that no reliable hazard potential may be derived from the frequently occurring complex biological strains. Measurements for biological agents performed using the current measuring standards are mainly indicated for orientation and reviewing the efficiency of protective measures.

Assessment of the presence

The assessment as to whether a biological agent may occur results from scientific results regarding epidemiology, occupational disease events, and empirical values.

Risk assessment

The most important instruction manual for the risk assessment regarding activities including biological agents are the Technical Rules for Biological Agents (TRBA) 400 as well as the sector-specific TRBA.

Infection potential

The main criterion the assessment of the health-related hazards of biological agents is based on includes the infection potential. Currently, more than 10,000 biological agents are classified according to their infection potential. In this, it should be mentioned that health hazards are only entailed by a small part of these classified biological agents, the occurrence of which at the workplace may actually result in health complications, however. Publishing a table overview of all classified biological agents here in this booklet exceeds the due clarity. Therefore, reference is being made to TRBA 460, TRBA 462, TRBA 464, TRBA 466 and TRBA 468 as well as Directive 2000/54 EU including their annexes.

Sensitising and toxic properties

Some bacteria and fungi have sensitising effects. They are identified accordingly in the lists mentioned above. Likewise, toxic properties are identified separately.

Table 4.0-1. Some examples of biological agents
Risk groupBacteria Fungi VirusesParasites
2Staphylococcus aureus, E. coliAspergillus fumigatus, Candida albicansPoliovirus-Vaccine, HAVLeishmania major, Plasmodium spp.
3Shigella dysenteriae, Salmonella typhi, Chlamydia psittaci, Mycobacterium tuberculosisCoccidioides immitis, Blastomyces dermatitidisHBV, HCV, HIV, yellow fever virus, monkey pox virusEchinococcus, all kinds risk group 3(**)
Plasmodium falciparum risk group 3(**)
4 - - Lassavirus,
Variola major-Virus

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