WHMIS 1988 - Hazard-specific Issues: Biohazards

Biohazards - Overview

Within WHMIS, a biohazardous infectious material is defined in section 64 of the  Controlled Products Regulations (CPR).  It is "an organism that has been shown to cause disease or to be a probable cause of disease in persons or animals and the toxins of that organism. In this definition, an organism can be any biological entity living or non-living, cellular or non-cellular, including bacteria or viruses.  A material that meets these criteria and is sold or imported into Canada is subject to the WHMIS requirements of the Hazardous Products Act (HPA).

Diagnostic Specimens

The  Hazardous Products Act (HPA) applies to the sale and importation of a controlled product. Internal distribution of a substance, such as from one hospital to another is outside of the scope of the HPA/CPR.

Technical Data Sheets for Infectious Agents

The Office of Laboratory Security,  Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has prepared data sheets for several common potentially infectious agents which can also provide a source of information for labelling. The data sheets are organized to contain health hazard information such as infectious dose, viability (including decontamination), medical information, laboratory hazard, recommended precautions, handling information and spill procedures. The intent of these documents is to provide a safety resource for laboratory personnel working with these infectious substances. As these workers are usually working in a scientific setting and are potentially exposed to much higher concentrations of these human pathogens than the general public, these data sheets contain information that is relevant specifically to the laboratory setting.

World Health Organization (WHO) Risk Groups

Based on the criteria used to establish the WHO risk groups, an organism would be considered to meet the CPR criteria for biohazardous infectious material if it falls within WHO Risk Groups 2, 3 or 4.

World Health Organization (WHO) Risk Groups
Group Risk Description
1 worker risk - low
community risk - low
A microorganism that is unlikely to cause significant human disease.
2 worker risk - moderate
community risk - limited
A pathogen that can cause human disease but is unlikely to be a serious hazard to workers or the community. Workplace exposures may cause serious infection, but effective treatment and preventive measures are available and the risk of spread of the pathogen is limited.
3 worker risk - high
community risk - low
A pathogen that usually produces serious human disease but where the pathogen does not ordinarily spread by casual contact from one infected individual to another.
4 worker risk - high
community risk - high
A pathogen that usually produces very serious disease in humans, is often untreatable, and the pathogen may be readily transmitted from one individual to another, directly or indirectly.
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