What are biological agents?

Biological agents are microorganisms such as bacteria, parasites, moulds and viruses, and their waste products. Genetically modified variants of these organisms (GMOs) also fall under the category of biological agents.

Risk categories

The Working Conditions Act divides biological agents into 4 risk categories on the basis of the following aspects: 

  • Harmful effect on health
  • Risk of occurrence
  • Availability of effective prophylaxis or treatment


Category 1
An agent which is unlikely to cause disease in humans.

Category 2
An agent which can cause disease in humans and may present risks to employees; the agent is unlikely to spread among the population; an effective prophylaxis or treatment is usually available.

Category 3
An agent which can cause severe disease in humans and may present enormous risks to employees; the agent may spread among the population, but an effective prophylaxis or treatment is usually available.

Category 4
An agent which causes severe disease in humans and presents enormous risks to employees; the agent is likely to spread among the population, and there is usually no effective available prophylaxis or treatment.

To find out more about the various risk categories, see www.kiza.nl

Targeted and non-targeted work situation

Exposure may take one of three forms: via inhalation of particles or aerosols (for example the flu virus or Legionella bacteria), via ingestion (for example the Salmonella bacteria through food and drink) or directly in the blood, via a wound or mucous membrane (for example the Hepatitis or HIV virus). Exposure may pose risks for your health. We distinguish between two types of work situations:

  1.  Non-targeted work with biological agents. In non-targeted work situations, exposure is an unintentional side effect. The danger is that you may – without knowing it – come into contact with biological agents.
    An example is exposure to Legionella pneumophila via a contaminated shower or cooling tower.

  2.  Targeted work with biological agents. These are situations involving people purposefully working with biological agents and a calculated risk of exposure. The employees in question are familiar with the risks posed and have taken appropriate precautions. There are often legal obligations that must be met in order to be allowed to work with these agents.
    Examples of targeted or conscious handling of biological agents include research into viruses and bacteria, working with GMOs and working with laboratory animals.


Note 1: The showers and cooling towers of the university are serviced by the Real Estate Expertise Centre and inspected a few times a year to prevent a potential Legionella infection.

Note 2: Targeted handling of biological agents may involve handling microorganisms, plants and animals (which may or may not have been genetically modified). In the Netherlands, work with microorganisms, plants and animals (which may or may not have been genetically modified) is subject to extensive legislation (Working Conditions Resolution, Animal Experiments Act, GMO Decree, etc.). For more information on this legislation, please contact your biological safety officer (BSO).

 
Last Modified: 17-02-2015