​​​Under Part 36 of the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Regulation, a "biological substance" is defined as a substance containing living organisms or parts of living organisms in their natural or modified forms. Not all biological substances are hazardous; however, certain kinds, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungi, can negatively impact a person's health.

The level of risk associated with exposure to biological substances in the workplace is directly linked to the type of substance, how it is used in the workplace and the worker's susceptibility to exposure. Examples of exposure include human-to-human contact, bodily fluid exposure, animal bites, exposure to animal feces, insect bites, and consuming undercooked food. Diseases that can result from a biological exposure include hepatitis, rabies, and salmonella.

The following are actions that must be taken to meet legal requirements, as noted in the Manitoba Workplace Safety and Health Regulation, and to protect workers from exposure to biological substances:

  • Determine which biological substance in the workplace presents a risk to workers.

  • Use safe work procedures for each biological substance that present a risk.

  • Determine if the risk is from a non-airborne exposure (for example, through the skin, eyes, or mucous membranes) or airborne exposure (inhalation.

  • If the exposure is not airborne, immediately apply control measures to eliminate the risk.

  • If the exposure is airborne, establish an appropriate occupational exposure limit (OEL).

  • Monitor airborne exposures to biological substances.

  • If the workplace assessment or monitoring indicates that workers are exposed to a biological substance in excess of the OEL, apply control measures to reduce exposure and meet the OEL.

  • Make sure to develop control measures that ensure worker exposures do not exceed the OEL.

  • Reassess risk of exposure to workers when there is new information on the toxicity of a biological substance, or when workplace conditions change.

Control measures keep worker exposure below the OEL for each biological substance. Types of control measures include elimination (eliminate or remove the hazard from the workplace) substitution (replace with a less hazardous condition, practice or process), administrative (improvements in the way work is done), engineering (physical changes that reduce exposure, and isolate the worker from the hazard) or personal protective equipment methods. These measures follow a hierarchy, with elimination and substitution being the most effective types of control.  

In addition to control measures, workers must be trained in how to use biological substances. While general WHMIS education will allow everyone who may come into contact with biological substances to recognize that a hazard exists, employers are also responsible for ensuring that workers who are exposed, or may be exposed, receive more specific information related to the risks associated with using various biological substances in the workplace. This includes knowing how to handle, use, store and dispose of biological substances safely.

Additional resources:

SAFE Work Manitoba: Chemical and Biological Hazards Guide

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Biological Hazards

Check out our Shop Talk and safe work procedure template on biological hazards. (Below the FAQs are more resources related to biological hazards.

Shop Talk: Biological Hazards      Safe Work Procedure Template: Handling and Disposing of Sharps

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