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Renewed commitment to tackle hazardous biological agents

06 July 2022

FROM 20–24 June, the International Labour Organization (ILO) hosted a series of meetings with international experts to debate the impacts of occupational exposure to biologically hazardous agents.

The dialogue fostered commitment and consensus building among participants and ultimately led to the formal tripartite (governments, employers and workers) approval of technical guidelines on biological hazards.

What does it mean?

The approved draft guidance will contribute to the next global standard-setting discussions of the International Labour Conference in 2024 and 2025, with the aim of approving a Biological Hazards Convention. If approved, Member States will have to incorporate these provisions into national legislative frameworks.

ILO technical guidelines provide practical approaches to reducing work-related injuries, ill health, diseases and incidents. On this specific matter, they also help to raise awareness on the obligations responsibilities, duties and rights of those involved in the design, management and organisation of any work involving biological hazards or linked to high-risk sectors with exposure to biological hazards.

The core principle of the guidelines places a strong emphasis on the need for sound protocol-driven biological hazard identification strategies and risk assessments processes, together with preventive and protective measures.

What does IOSH think?

Dr Ivan Williams Jimenez, policy development manager said, “These technical guidelines represent sound advice for workers and employers to better understand the potential exposure and health impacts of biological hazards in the workplace, at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly put on the spotlight the need for up-to-date guidance on this issue.

“We believe this information might be of interest to those working in agriculture and forestry settings, laboratories, food processing plants, waste management facilities, and in healthcare and community services, and any other sectors in which workers can be exposed to biological hazards.

“As the knowledge and information on biological hazards in the workplace keeps improving, IOSH welcomes the efforts to protect workers against these agents. Harmonisation and improvement in existing classification systems of occupational infectious diseases is needed, together with stronger evidence base on the impact of hazardous agents on occupations, industries and infectious diseases. IOSH hopes to contribute to the important debates that will take place in the next two years.”