18.12.2007

New biological threats in European working environment

In its new report the European Risk Observatory identifies emerging biological
risks that are most likely to affect workers in the EU. Farmers, healthcare
workers or people in evolving industries such as waste treatment are
particularly concerned. Communicable diseases such as SARS, avian flu or Dengue
are of increasing concern. Despite existing European law, knowledge is still
limited and in many workplaces biological risks are poorly assessed and
prevented. The report emphasises the importance of taking a global and
multidisciplinary approach involving occupational safety and health, public
health, environmental protection and food safety.

"Biological risks often remain underestimated although they may be very harmful
for EU workers in literally any sector", says Jukka Takala, Director of the
European Agency for Safety and Health at Work of which the European Risk
Observatory (ERO) is an integral part. "The challenge is to identify them
quickly as they appear and analyse the consequences they might have on people's
health and to work out policies and procedures to minimise their spread." The
ERO expert forecast identifies new and increasing biological risks related to
occupational safety and stresses the importance of considering all collective
responsibilities and means of control, both inside and outside the workplace.

Communicable diseases threaten EU workers

It is estimated that 320,000 workers worldwide die every year of communicable
diseases caused by viral, bacterial, insect or animal related biological
hazards. Although most fatalities occur in developing countries, some 5,000
workers fall victim in the EU. Women are more likely to be concerned than men
as they typically work in occupations that involve more biohazards and
exposure.

The most emerging risks relate to global epidemics with new contagious
pathogens, e.g. severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), avian flu and Ebola,
and re-emerging ones such as cholera and yellow fever. Given the speed and
volume of international traffic and trade, these substances may spread around
the globe within a few hours and start a new pandemic.

Industries with highest risk

As many of these diseases jump the species barrier from animals to humans,
workers in contact with livestock are particularly at risk. Other pathogens
such as tuberculosis have become resistant to known drugs and can result in
severe infections in healthcare workers.

Complex exposure situations are found in new industries such as waste treatment
where workers come in contact with a variety of airborne micro organisms and
organic compounds. Moulds can spread in any indoor workplace due to poorly
maintained air-conditioning and can cause asthma and allergies.

Second report on emerging risks

The ERO report is the second of a series dedicated to emerging risks. The
results of this forecast, together with the three complementary works on
physical, chemical and psychosocial risks, are only the first steps in a
process of debate and consolidation that forms part of the work programme of
the Agency.

More information


AplusA-online.de - Source: European Agency for Safety and Health at Work