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There are special regulations in respect of the handling of a substance that is a biological agent as it poses special risks to workers and the environment far more than we can cover on this course. COSHH covers these agents and their handling and special risk assessment planning is needed in accordance with regulations. 

Any biological agent which appears in the classification list approved by the Health and Safety Commission (referred to as the Approved List of biological agents) 13 is categorised as being in the hazard group specified there. 

The HSE approved code of practice defines Biological agents as substances like: 

  • Micro-organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi 
  • The microscopic infectious forms of larger parasites 
  • Cell cultures containing harmful properties, for example if they could, cause any infection, allergy, toxicity or otherwise create a hazard to human health. 

Nucleic acid is not a biological agent; however, it can still be a substance hazardous to health. In such cases the more general provisions outlined in COSHH would apply. 

Biological agents are classified into different hazard groups according to their ability to cause infection in healthy humans, the severity of the disease that may result, the risk that infection will spread to the community, and the availability of vaccines and effective treatment.

Some biological agents are not infectious at but may have toxic, allergenic or other harmful properties. While a non-infectious biological agent may be classified as a low hazard agent, substantial control measures may still be needed for it, depending on the other harmful properties it has. For example, if it has toxic properties, then COSHH would apply. 

Correct and effective risk assessment is needed when dealing with any biological agent.