Code of Practice for the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013 and 2020

The Health and Safety Authority has published a Code of Practice for the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013 and 2020. The Code of Practice along with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 539 of 2020) transpose requirements in Commission Directive (EU) 2019/1833 of 24 October 2019 and Commission Directive (EU) 2020/739 of 3 June 2020. Directive 2020/739 specifically addresses SARS-CoV-2 (the causative agent of COVID-19) and classifies it as a risk group 3 human pathogen. 

The main changes are to Schedule 1 and involve changes to the nomenclature and classification of a large number of biological agents, restructuring of the virus taxonomy with viruses now listed according to Order, Family and Genus and the addition of new biological agents such as Clostridium difficile, MERS and the SARS-CoV-2 viruses. Other biological agents such as Mycoplasma caviae and Hepatitis G virus have been removed from the list. In addition, Schedules 2 and 3 have been realigned to ensure consistency with other legislation.  Definitions, updated descriptions and additional containment measures have also been included. While Schedule 4 has been updated to include nomenclature changes with a special dispensation for SARS-CoV-2. 

The inclusion of SARS-COV-2 in the Code of Practice will also introduce a reporting requirement under Regulation 12 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013, as amended. Cases of COVID 19 disease, or death, in employees resulting from confirmed occupational exposure in connection with the carrying out of work with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) will be reportable. Occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 can result from deliberate work with the virus e.g. as in a research laboratory or can occur incidentally from other specific work activities with the virus e.g. working with a COVID-19 patient, handling SARS-CoV-2 infected waste or carrying out diagnostic testing for COVID-19 in a laboratory.  

Taking account of the information in the Code of Practice, employers should review their risk assessments to ensure that they are still relevant and provide adequate employee protection. Employers should also review their Biological Agents’ Notifications as re-notification may also be required. This is especially important in light of the reclassification of certain biological agents to higher risk groups.

The Code of Practice is available to download here and a copy of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 539 of 2020) can be viewed here.