Biological Hazards and Risks

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the potentially devastating global impact of uncontrolled biological hazards. Other diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), influenza A (H1N1) and Ebola fever have also been sources of international concern.

Exposure to the viruses that cause contagious diseases is but one of numerous biological hazards workers may be exposed to.

In workplaces such as hospitals and laboratories, cattle producing factories and grain silos, in sewage maintenance facilities, collection of waste and many other activities, workers may be exposed to biological hazards including bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, prions, DNA material, bodily fluids as well as other microorganisms and their associated allergens and toxins.

In June 2022 experts from governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations adopted for the first time, specific technical guidelines for handling biological hazards in the working environment.

The ILO is now proposing to develop a comprehensive and forward-looking legal framework for the promotion, respect and realization of the right to a safe and healthy working environment in respect of biological hazards. The 112th and 113th sessions of the International Labour Conference, in 2024 and 2025, are in fact expected to discuss a new standard covering biological hazards, as part of the review of the ILO’s occupational safety and health normative framework.