European Commission classifies COVID-19 as risk 3 biological agent
MEPs and the European Commission have confirmed that the COVID-19 virus is classed as a risk 3 group biological agent. This influences the level of safety measures that employers must follow.
Several members of the European Employment and Social Affairs Committee wanted the Commission to upgrade COVID-19 to a class 4 biological risk, which implements the highest possible protection levels. The commission was satisfied that level 3 precautions were appropriate. They said that lessons from the pandemic could alter the content of the Biological Agents Directive to upgrade precautions needed for level 3 risk biological agents.
The commission defines a group 3 biological agent as:
“One that can cause severe human disease and present a serious hazard to workers; it may present a risk of spreading to the community, but there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available.”
The directive sets out employers’ obligations on safety issues including protective workwear, washing facilities, refreshment areas, equipment cleaning and safety training.
Although Britain is leaving the European Union, it is still currently a member. EU safety directives remain in force, though individual states can implement stricter rules. The level of lockdown restrictions are decided by each country and there are variations. Within the UK, restrictions are different in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides further guidance on how employers can protect their workers and customers from being infected by COVID-19. The HSE has individual guidance for different industry sectors.