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Exposure to Carcinogens, Mutagens and Biological Agents

The University is required to report cases of occupational cancer, and any disease or acute illness caused by an occupational exposure to a biological agent. The Health and Safety Department will carry out an investigation and submit a notification to the HSE whenever there is reasonable evidence suggesting that a work-related exposure was the likely cause.

Occupational Cancer

Cases of cancer must be reported where there is an established causal link between the type of cancer diagnosed and the hazards to which the person has been exposed through work. These hazards include all known human carcinogens and mutagens, including ionising radiation.

Reports are only required when the person’s work significantly increases the risk of developing the cancer. In some cases, the medical practitioner may indicate the significance of any work-related factors when communicating their diagnosis.

Cases of cancer are not reportable when they are not linked with work-related exposures to carcinogens or mutagens. As with other diseases, cancers are only reportable if the person’s current job involves exposure to the relevant hazard.

Biological Agents

All diseases and any acute illness needing medical treatment must be reported when it is attributable to a work-related exposure to a biological agent. The term biological agent is defined as a micro-organism, cell culture, or human endoparasite which may cause infection, allergy, toxicity or other hazard to human health.

Work-related exposures to biological agents may take place as a result of:

  • an identifiable event, such as the accidental breakage of a laboratory flask, accidental injury with a contaminated syringe needle or an animal biteunidentified events, where workers are exposed to the agent without their knowledge (eg where a worker is exposed to legionella bacteria while conducting routine maintenance on a hot water service system)

Minor infections common in the community cannot generally be attributed to work-related exposures to biological agents, and so are generally not reportable. However, where there is reasonable evidence of a work-related cause, such as inadvertent contact with the infectious agent during laboratory work, this must be reported.

Acute illnesses requiring medical attention must similarly be reported when they result from a work-related exposure to a biological agent, including its toxins or any infected material.