Personnel-specific factors

Competence and habits of personnel

The ultimate responsibility for ensuring the safety of themselves, co-workers and the public rests on the actual personnel handling the hazardous biological agent or material. Therefore it is extremely important that a risk assessment considers the competency of the laboratory personnel and their good habits. Competency will include evaluating a person’s training, experience in working with hazardous agents or material, knowledge of procedural and agent specific risks, proficiency in following good aseptic or microbiological practices & techniques and competence in using safety equipment correctly. In addition it is also important that laboratory personnel are careful, attentive, willing to take responsibility in case an emergency happens and show a concern for the well-being of co-workers during work. It is important that the chief investigators and senior laboratory staff provide training and guidance to all new staff and students so that all laboratory personnel would have sufficient competence and awareness before starting work with hazardous biological agents / material.

Immune status of the personnel

It is common to assume that the personnel who work with the hazardous biological agent or material would be immunocompetent. But if any of the personnel happen to have a weakened immune system due to an illness or due to certain types of medication taken, such personnel need to be given special consideration.

Opportunistic pathogens that may have a minimal risk to immunocompetent personnel could pose a risk of infection to immunocompromised personnel while actual human infectious agents will cause a more serious disease in such individuals. Some microorganisms pose a greater risk for certain groups of workers. For example, microorganisms such as Listeria monocytogens and Toxoplasma gondii pose a significant risk to pregnant lab personnel due to the detrimental effects these agents can have on the developing foetus.

Therefore whenever there is any concern about the immune status of a worker this should be discussed with the supervisor and if necessary medical advice should be sought before undertaking the work.