Biological health risk for hospital workers: transmission and preventive measures

rischio biologico in ambiente sanitario

Hospitals have many unique hazards that can potentially affect the health of workers and exposure to occupational hazards throughout hospital departments are highly variable. This is how biological risk in hospitals may be avoided.

What are the biological risks for hospital workers?

Biohazard health risk refers to organisms or organic matters produced by these organisms that are harmful to human health.

Depending on the departments in which they work and the activities they perform during the course of their regular job duties, hospital workers are exposed to certain pathologies more than others.  Current legislation, therefore, specifies that the employer or appointed third party is responsible for carrying out biological health risk assessment in the health sector and, depending on the type of risk, implement various controls and preventive measures against the biological risks found.

The various categories of hospital workers, such as nursing staff, care workers, laboratory technicians, cleaning staff, doctors and so on, are all usually exposed to biological risk in different ways. In general, there are three major routes of entry for micro-organisms into the human body:

  • through contact with blood and body fluids
  • through contact with contaminated objects
  • through inhalation or ingestion.

The greatest risks are related to the possible transmission of hepatitis B virus (HBV) hepatitis C virus (HCV) and immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Body fluids which expose hospital workers to risk are numerous and, in addition to blood, saliva, sperm, secretions, pleural fluid and other fluids, can also expose to biological risk. Furthermore, pathogens may also be transmitted through small cuts, wounds and abrasions, but contamination may also occur through contact with other body parts such as, the eyes, nose and mouth. Laboratory technicians, who need to use potentially harmful chemical reagents during the course of their regular job duties are also at risk and, need to implement and adhere to strict preventive measures.

Which preventive measure to adopt against biological hazards?

Among the most exposed subjects are the operators who work with test tubes and chemical reagents and, owing to the duties they need to perform, come into close contact with patients on a regular basis. It is, therefore, evident that the biological risk for healthcare workers and laboratory technicians is very high because they are exposed to the inhalation of airborne viruses as well as fumes and vapours released by chemical reagents which can be irritating for the eyes and mucous membranes.

Biological risk in the healthcare sector can be avoided by workers by using respiratory protective devices (RPD) such as powered air purifying respirators. The purpose of these devices is to protect sensitive body parts such as mucous membranes, nose, eyes, and throat from exposure to pathogens which spread through the airways and mucous membranes. Currently, commonly used RPD are powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) with full face mask equipped with filters and run by batteries. These devices have inhalation and exhalation valves which expel expired and excess air and facilitate breathing. Depending on the type of job, there is a large variety of models in terms of weight and battery running time to choose from.