Chapter 18: Biological hazards

Chapter 18: Biological Hazards


Biological hazards present the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) professional with complex challenges. Many and varied biological hazards may result from workplace exposure to organisms, or substances produced by organisms, that threaten human health. Although workers in health and community care, and agricultural and fishing occupations are at particular risk of exposure to hazardous biological agents, all workplaces harbour the potential for various forms of biological hazard exposure, particularly via person-to-person transmission of infectious disease. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a heightened perspective to the management of biological hazards and the role of the OHS professional. This chapter outlines the knowledge required by the OHS professional to understand the nature of biological hazards and the principles of control. Armed with this knowledge, the generalist OHS professional can then facilitate a team approach to the identification, assessment and control and mitigation of biological hazards.

Keywords: biological hazard, biohazard, infection, vector, virulence, infectivity

First year of publication: 2012
Current Version : 2021

Chapter 18: Biological Hazards

Table of contents

1 Introduction
2 Extent of the problem
3 Understanding biological hazards
3.1 The nature of biological hazards
3.2 Mode of transmission
3.3 Risk factors
4 Occupational factors affecting impact of biological hazards
4.1 Type of occupation
4.3 Location and environment
5 At-risk workers
6 Legislation and guidance
6.1 Control of biological hazards
6.2 Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic
Control of biological hazards
Implications for OHS practice
Resources and guidance


Appendix 1 Definitions
Appendix 2 Summary of infective agents

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Dr Amanda Jones B.Sc., B.Sc (Hons), Ph.D
Lead Biological Safety Advisor, The University of Queensland

Amanda is the Lead Biological Safety Advisor and biological safety team leader at the University of Queensland and a former neuroscientist with various publications in neuroimmunology, immune dysregulation in schizophrenia, and molecular biology. Amanda provides specialist health and safety advice with respect to biological hazards to all levels of the University research and teaching activities. Amanda regularly contributes to legislative and regulatory reviews, biological containment and safety standards and guidelines. Amanda seeks to broaden the generalist OHS professionals’ understanding of biological safety at every opportunity and actively participates in conferences, workshops and meetings conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Safety, the Australasian University Safety Association and Association for Biological Safety Australia and New Zealand

Peer reviewers

Elizabeth Miric BSc (Hons), PhD, GDOHS.

The OHS Body of Knowledge takes a conceptual approach which enables it to be applied in different contexts and frameworks.

To optimise its value for education and professional development learning outcomes have been developed for each technical chapter in the Body of Knowledge.

The learning outcomes as described give an indication of what should be the capabilities of an OHS professional; it is up to those developing OHS education programs, OHS professionals planning their CPD or recruiters or employers selecting or developing people for the OHS function to consider the required breadth vs. depth .

Please read the section on using the learning outcomes before delving into the leaning outcomes of the individual chapters.

The numbers against each learning outcome refer to the chapter number of the BOK download page. No learning outcomes have been developed for the chapters considered introductory or underpinning knowledge (that is chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, .13, 14, 15.)

Download document about BOK Learning Outcomes

Download Learning Outcomes for this Chapter


AIHS Webinar: Biological Safety
This webinar discusses the basics of biosafety and why biological risk management is important.  It looks at some obvious and not so obvious situations where biosafety needs to be considered and some key ways to manage biosafety that all safety professionals and practitioners can employ.

Dr. Amanda Jones


3M Science of Safety Podcast: What is mould?
Mould is part of a group of organisms called fungi. It is present almost everywhere, both indoors and outdoors and mould spores are commonplace in many households and workplaces. Many different types of mould exist, and when present in large quantities have the potential to cause a range of both short term and chronic health problems, ranging from allergic reactions through to respiratory problems and even organ failure
Date: 2019
Kevin White, Principal WHS Consultant, Greencap WA.