The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted a lack of preparedness for health crises within work life. The Biological Agents Directive (Directive 2000/54/EC) contains requirements to minimise the risks of workplace exposure to biological agents, and is aimed at both workplaces whose work activities involve the intentional use of biological agents (e.g. laboratories) and those where this is unintentional (e.g. waste treatment). Although this Directive applies to all workplaces, the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that both employers and inspectors found it difficult to deal with biological agents in workplaces that do not normally encounter biological agents as part of their work activities (e.g. retail, public transport). This guide therefore focuses on improving the preparedness of National Labour Inspectorates for possible future pandemics caused by airborne biological agents.
This SLIC guide document covers:
- the Biological Agents Directive and the definitions of a biological agent;
- the differences between endemics, epidemics and pandemics;
- the 'break the chain of infection' model: this is based on a simplified chain of infection and considers five stages in the person-to-person spread of air-transmitted micro-organisms within a population. At each of these five stage, control measures can be implemented to break the chain and stop the infection from spreading;
- examples of control measures;
- key issues to be addressed by labour inspectors and how to assess the quality of risk assessment.
The guide also provides advice for labour inspectors on how to protect themselves when planning and conducting inspection visits during a pandemic or major epidemic.
All the examples in the guide are for the SARS-CoV-2 virus (responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic), but the concepts can also be applied to other airborne biological agents with pandemic potential.
Published by: Senior Labour Inspectors Committee (SLIC)
Publication date: May 2022
Number of pages: 19 pp.