ILO adopts new guidelines on biological hazards in the world of work

© Virginia Guard Public Affairs

GENEVA (ILO News) – Experts from governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations meeting at the International Labor Organization (ILO) have adopted guidelines on the management of biological risks in the world of work.

The adopted tripartite directives are the first for this type of risk. They provide specific advice, aligned with international labor standards, on the prevention and control of injuries, illnesses and deaths related to exposure to biological hazards in the working environment. They also deal with issues relating to the responsibilities and rights of competent authorities, employers, occupational health services and workers, risk management in the workplace, health surveillance of workers, as well as to emergency preparedness and response.

The five-day meeting, held in Geneva from June 20-24, 2022, discussed the implications of exposure to biological hazards in the workplace and how best to formulate policies and measures national and workplace to prevent and mitigate related health problems.

The guidelines define a biological hazard as any micro-organism, cell or other organic material of plant, animal or human origin, including those that have been genetically modified, that can harm human health. These can include, but are not limited to, bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, prions, genetic material, body fluids and other microorganisms as well as the allergens and toxins associated with them.

Biological hazards, whether infectious or not, can pose a significant threat to health in many sectors and workplaces around the world. For example, communicable diseases alone are estimated to have caused 310,000 work-related deaths globally in 2021, of which 120,000 were due to COVID-19.

The creation of the guidelines follows a decision taken at the 331st Session of the Governing Body, in 2017, acting on a suggestion by the Tripartite Working Group of the Standards Review Mechanism. The decision to hold the expert meeting was taken at the 343rd Session of the Governing Body, in May 2022.

A new standard covering biological risks is to be discussed in 2024 and 2025 at the 112th and 113th sessions of the International Labor Conference as part of the revision of the ILO normative framework for occupational safety and health.

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