Posted On: September 14, 2023

Biological Hazards in the Workplace: Biohazard Examples & Prevention

Biological Hazards in the Workplace: Biohazard Examples & Prevention

"Biohazard" is a frequently misused term. It can be used to describe anything that's dangerous or detrimental to your health. Sometimes we even use it to describe things that are just gross, like a teenager's bedroom.

But in the occupational safety and health community, it has a very distinct meaning that separates it from other categories like chemical, physical, ergonomic, and psychological hazards.

So, what is a biological hazard? Who might be at risk on the job? And how do you mitigate biohazards in the workplace? Continue reading to find out.

What Is a Biological Hazard?

A biohazard, short for biological hazard, is any biological material that threatens the health of living organisms. When it comes to workplace safety, we're more primarily concerned with human health and safety.

The key difference between biological hazards and other categories is that the dangerous substance must come from a biological source, as opposed to manufactured chemicals or substances that exist in the environment.

Types of Biological Hazards

Biohazards can be easier to understand if you break them down by category. Below are just a few different types of biohazard categories:

Biological Agent

Biological agents refer to organisms that are a direct source of human disease, including parasites, fungi, bacteria, and viruses.

Typically, we only categorize microorganisms as biological agents.

Biotoxins

Biotoxins are toxic or poisonous substances that have a biological origin. Biotoxins can be produced by a variety of organisms, including plants, bacteria, insects, or animals.

Biotoxins can remain hazardous in the environment even after the living source is dead.

Human Blood, Blood Products, and Sharps

Blood isn't dangerous to us, in and of itself, but it's a method for transmitting many biological agents.

As a result, blood components, biological materials that contain human blood, and potential vectors of blood-to-blood transmission ("sharps") are all handled with the utmost caution.

Other Human Bodily Matter

Aside from blood, many bodily fluids and materials are also capable of transmitting disease. Therefore, human biological samples have to be treated as biohazards.

Animal Products and Animal Waste

Human fluids and materials represent the highest level of risk for threatening a worker's health, but animal diseases can also be transmitted to people. Any bodily fluids or materials that come from other species will also require precautions.

Organic Matter

Any substance that either used to be a living thing or was produced by a living thing is known as organic matter or organic material. Organic matter is potentially biohazardous.

Stinging & Biting Insects

Biting and stinging insects pose a health threat to people in a few ways – the bite itself can cause some discomfort, but many bites or stings may contain either insect venom or disease-carrying microorganisms.

Outdoor workers are most at risk for this type of biohazard, but indoor workers may also be at risk.

What Is an Example of a Biological Hazard in Each Category?

First responders, medical professionals, and research lab workers have the most obvious exposure risks for various biological hazards, but the truth is biohazards are found in almost every industry. That includes everything from agriculture to museum work.

Biohazard examples can be helpful for identifying workers at risk, as well as the hazard mitigation strategies you could use to protect them.

Examples of Hazardous Biological Agents

The list of biohazard examples in this category is almost endless.

Common biological agents that represent a hazard in the workplace include bloodborne pathogens like HIV, environmental threats like Legionnaires' Disease and mold, person-to-person transmission of contagious diseases, and even weaponized agents like anthrax that could be used in bioterrorism.

All three kinds of hepatitis are also workplace biological hazards. Hepatitis B and C are bloodborne, but Hepatitis A is typically foodborne.

Examples of Hazardous Biotoxins

Examples of biotoxin hazards include venom from various animals including snakes, ricin from castor beans, and botulism from bacteria.

Biotoxins can be naturally occurring. For example, improperly canned food can be a breeding ground for botulinum bacteria, which leave the botulism toxin behind even when they die.

However, many biotoxins can also be weaponized.

Examples of Hazardous Blood Products and Sharps

Many materials are categorized as blood biohazards. Examples include whole blood, serum, plasma, platelets, white blood cells, and human pathological samples.

Vectors called "sharps" also have to be treated as blood-related biohazards because even when there's no visible blood, they may contain bloodborne pathogens. Examples of sharps include used needles, scalpels, and other pricking or cutting items.

Examples of Hazardous Human Bodily Matter

Other hazardous bodily matter includes saliva, mucus, vomit, urine, and feces.

Industries at risk of exposure include medical personnel, janitorial staff, and childcare workers, among others.

Examples of Hazardous Animal Waste and Animal Products

The agriculture and food industries have many examples of animal-based materials that represent a biohazard, including raw milk, eggs, and meat, as well as animal waste and materials that could be soiled by it, like bedding.

The most common biohazard examples in this category are rodent and bird droppings, which affect many workplaces across all industries.

Examples of Hazardous Organic Matter

Sewage, wastewater, garbage, plant material, and organic dust are all examples of biological hazards that are organic matter.

However, environmental samples may also contain organic matter – this includes soil and fresh water.

Examples of Hazardous Biting or Stinging Insects

Bees, wasps, and spiders are obvious biohazard examples in this category, but depending on where you are, scorpions and fire ants can also make the list.

How to Prevent Biological Hazards

Because there are so many different types of biohazards – with tremendous variety within each category – biological hazard prevention is a complicated topic.

For any given biohazard, there will be specific prevention and mitigation methods. There's no universal solution. You’ll need to identify the biohazards in your workplace and put controls in place. What works for one biological hazard might not work for another.

Common examples of biohazard engineering controls include pest removal and prevention, regular cleaning, waste disposal, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Examples of administrative controls for biological hazards range from sick leave and vaccine requirements to handwashing facilities.

Biohazard training – both general awareness and hazard-specific – is a foundational type of administrative control to prevent biological hazards.

As an OSHA-authorized online training provider, we have a ton of regulatory safety training in biological hazard prevention and mitigation – from OSHA bloodborne pathogen courses to NAMP mold inspector and remediator certification.

Check out our catalog of occupational safety and health training for the courses you need, and enroll today!

 [MB1]Original title Biological Hazard: Examples of Biohazards & How to Prevent Them

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