Human Resources

Health and Safety

Microbiological safety

Legislation

The main areas of Health and Safety law relevant to micro-organisms used in the University of Portsmouth are:

This site deals with the health presented by bacteria, fungi and viruses and the prevention of laboratory and non-laboratory acquired infections.

A specific area of responsibility for the University of Portsmouth is the control of legionella bacteria in water systems.

Risks from micro-organisms

Assessment of the relative risk of handling infectious agents has led to the adoption of a scale consisting of four Risk (or Hazard) Groups, ranging from the least (Group 1) to the most (Group 4) hazardous to laboratory workers and the community. The classification of micro-organisms on the basis of risk is:

  • Risk Group 1 (no or very low individual and community risk): A micro-organism that is unlikely to cause human or animal disease.
  • Risk Group 2 (moderate individual risk, low community risk): A pathogen that can cause human or animal disease but is unlikely to be a serious hazard to laboratory workers, the community, livestock or the environment. Laboratory exposures may cause serious infection, but effective treatment and preventive measures are available and the risk of spread of infection is limited.
  • Risk Group 3 (high individual and community risk): A pathogen that usually causes serious human or animal disease but does not ordinarily spread from one infected individual to another. Effective treatment and preventive measures are available.
  • Risk Group 4 (high individual and community risk): A pathogen that usually causes serious human or animal disease and can be readily transmitted from one individual to another, directly or indirectly. Effective treatment and preventive measures are usually not available.

Only micro-organisms in Risk Groups 1 and 2 are used in the Laboratories of the University of Portsmouth.

Control Measures

The key control measures in microbiological safety are designed to stop entry of micro-organisms the body. The routes of entry are through:

  • The mouth
  • Cuts and abrasions; including those that are not visible to the naked eye
  • The thin mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes
  • Accidental puncturing of the skin by infected "Sharps" such as needles. This is often referred to as a "Needlestick Injury"
  • Inhalation of infected aerosols and airborne particles

All these risks can be minimized, if not prevented, by good laboratory practice, the correct use of equipment and a high standard of personal hygiene, as detailed in the University's policies and Technical Guidance Notes.

(Source: World Health Organisation Laboratory Biosafety Manual).

Microbiological hazards in non laboratory situations

Microbiological hazards can be encountered in many work place situations and in order to ensure the safety of staff, the Health and Safety Office have produced the Technical Guidance Note - BH02: Dealing with biological hazards from blood, tissues and secretions in non laboratory situations (.pdf). This also covers "needlestick injuries" resulting from "Sharps".

Technical Guidance Note - BH02: Dealing with biological hazards from blood, tissues and secretions in non laboratory situations [Acrobat (.pdf) - 119KB Wed, 16 Nov 2011 12:36:00 GMT]

Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002 (as amended) – Microbiological

Using micro-organisms at work can put people's health at risk, so the law requires employers to control exposure to micro-organisms to prevent ill health.

Employers have to protect both employees and others who may be exposed by complying with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002 (as amended).

COSHH does not apply to...

COSHH applies to virtually all micro-organisms hazardous to health except biological agents that are outside the employer's control, e.g. catching an infection from a workmate. If in doubt, please contact the Health and Safety Office for advice.

Summary of duties of the University under COSHH

  1. Carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment which identifies all routes of entry and ill health effects
  2. Replace hazardous substances with non hazardous substances where possible or substitute with less hazardous substances
  3. Where prevention to exposure or substitution with less harmful substances is not possible, ensure effective control measures to ensure exposure is below any approved Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) and for carcinogens and mutagens ensure exposure is reduced as far below the WEL as is reasonably practicable
  4. Be aware of any workers who may have pre-existing conditions such as asthma or dermatitis
  5. Ensure a risk assessment is carried out on expectant mothers, pay particular attention to substances containing mutagens and teratogens which may affect an unborn child
  6. Implement a health surveillance programme where required, including skin checks