Work-related diseases from biological agents

Biological agents are known to cause health problems. According to the 2015 European Working Conditions Survey, an increasing proportion of European workers (13 %, which is 1.5 times as many as 10 years earlier) are exposed to infectious agents at work. Biological agents include viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites, and they can cause health problems either directly or through exposure to related allergens or toxins.

Work-related exposure to biological agents may be associated with several health problems, including infectious diseases, cancer and allergies. Some biological agents can also harm unborn babies.

Workers in certain sectors, such as healthcare and veterinary services, agriculture, sewage management, and laboratories, are particularly at risk. These workers may work directly with microbes or be exposed to them through contact with, for example, bodily fluids or soil. If the source of exposure to a biological agent is known, it is relatively easy to prevent adverse effects on health. Risk management of unknown sources of exposure is much more difficult.

EU-OSHA offers publications on this topic:

Biological agents and work-related diseases: results of a literature review, expert survey and analysis of monitoring systems: Report and Summary

Discussion papers identifying sectors with high risk of exposure to biological agents: healthcarejobs involving travel and contact with travellersanimal-related occupations; waste management and wastewater treatment; and arable farming.