The Biological Agents Code of Practice
The European Commission Directives on the protection of workers from risks related to exposure to biological agents at work (Directives 2000/54/EC as amended by (EU) 2019/1833 and (EU) 2020/739)) are implemented in Ireland by means of the Safety, Health, and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013 and 2020. These Regulations enable the publication of some aspects of the Biological Agents Directives (the classification list of biological agents and the containment measures for laboratories, isolation facilities, animal rooms, and industrial processes at the different containment levels) in a Code of Practice rather than in the Regulations themselves. The 2020 Code of Practice revokes and replaces the 2013 Code.
Application to Specific Workplaces
The Code of Practice is principally aimed at employers and employees who deliberately work with biological agents and specific types of workplaces where workers are at higher risk of being exposed to biological agents during the course of their work. This includes employees involved in research, development, teaching and diagnostic laboratories as well as animals rooms and industrial processes. The Code of Practice also applies to isolation facilities in healthcare and veterinary care where workers may be exposed to humans or animals that are (or suspected to be) infected with a group 3 or 4 biological agent.
Application to All Workplaces
Parts of the Code of Practice are applicable to all workplaces where actual or potential exposure to biological agents may occur. For example, Section 3 summarises the Biological Agents Regulations and Schedule 1 (which must be read in conjunction with the notes in Section 5) lists the risk group classification of Biological Agents. This Schedule is important to all workplaces, where actual or potential exposure to biological agents may occur, as it provides an indication of how dangerous a biological agent is and whether it has toxic or allergenic potential. It also indicates whether an effective vaccine is available.
Where there is a risk to the health and safety of employees due to exposure to a biological agent and a vaccine is available, the employer must make such vaccines available to employees that are not already immune to the biological agent. For example, page 36 of the Code indicate that Hepatitis B virus (which is a blood borne virus) is a risk group 3 virus (with a dispensation for laboratory and animal room work, shown by the **) and that an effective vaccine is available. This means that where the risk assessment shows that a worker may be exposed to the virus, for example, there may be a risk of exposure if working with or in contact with blood or contaminated needles, the employer should offer vaccination. The letter D in the notes section indicates that where a worker is working with the virus or the worker has been exposed to the virus, then an occupational exposure list must be kept.
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