Biohazard Symbol: What does it Mean?

October 11, 2017 Biohazards

What is the history behind the biohazard symbol?

The biohazard symbol is normally found on substances, materials, and containers that have biohazards. These are substances that pose a potential danger or risk to human life.

How the biohazard symbol came to be

As an international symbol, it is used worldwide to indicate the presence of biohazard agent. It was developed in 1966 by Charles L. Baldwin of Dow Chemicals and Robert S. Runkle of the NIH.

Baldwin, an environmental health engineer, wanted the symbol to be “memorable but meaningless” so that they may educate people as to what it means. The design team of the Dow Chemical Company was asked to create a highly recognisable design that was, according them:

  1. Striking in form in order to draw immediate attention;
  2. Unique and unambiguous, in order not to be confused with symbols used for other purposes;
  3. Quickly recognisable and easily recalled;
  4. Symmetrical, in order to appear identical from all angles of approach, and;
  5. Acceptable to groups of varying ethnic backgrounds.

The present biohazard symbol that we know of was the one who got the top score among the competing designs. It was, of all the choices, the most unique and memorable.

What are biohazards?

According to Australian Safety and Compensation Council, now called Safe Work Australia, biohazards or biological hazards are organic substances that pose a threat to the health of humans and other living organisms. They may be bio-active substances, fungi, spores, toxins or viruses. Biohazards are classified by UN number or United Nations number.

According to a review published by Dutkiewicz, Jabloński and Olenchock, there are 193 hazardous, toxic, allergenic and carcinogenic biohazardous substances. Healthcare and laboratory workers are among the 20 large occupational groups that are exposed to these hazards.

3 different classifications of biohazards

1. Infectious agents

Infectious agents are classified according to characteristics such as properties, size and morphological qualities. Some examples of infectious agents are bacteria which can cause diseases such as salmonellosis, leptospirosis, anthrax, and whooping cough. The most infectious agents can be controlled and prevented through hygiene precautions and vaccinations.

2. Plant and plant products

Certain plant species are capable of causing allergic reactions, poisoning, and stinging. Some fungi can also cause diseases such as ringworm and aspergillosis.

3. Animal products

Infectious diseases that come from wild or domestic animals are called zoonoses. They may be transmitted directly or can be vector-borne. Some examples of infectious diseases are Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and tularaemia.

Other examples of biohazards

  • Sharp objects like needles, slides, and blades
  • Dry biohazardous wastes like excretions and contaminated cultures
  • Liquid biohazardous wastes like human and animal blood, bodily elements, and blood elements
  • Animal body parts and carcasses

Who are at Risk for Biohazards?

Several work environments are more at risk of exposure to biohazards. These are usually occupational groups working in risky locations. Some examples of hazardous workplaces are fishing and farming environments, as well as hospitals and laboratories. Occupations that are at risk for biohazards include:

  • farmers
  • miners
  • fishermen and divers
  • sewer workers and plumbers
  • laboratory workers
  • veterinarians
  • zoo personnel
  • medical personnel
  • sex workers
  • mortuary workers
  • athletes and sports workers

How to control biohazards?

According to a NHEWS study, there are 5 biohazards control measure categories:

  • protective clothing
  • engineering
  • warnings
  • waste disposal
  • training

Control provisions must be dependent on the type of agents present in a certain environment. Modes of transmission, its infectivity and virulence, methods of exposure, and how many people were affected or exposed to the biohazard must also be considered when controlling biohazards. The priority is to eliminate the source, agent, and vector of the biohazard for the safety of the environment and its people.

How to dispose biohazards

Biohazards must be disposed in clinical waste bags according to how they are classified. Solid biohazards must be kept and collected in a container designated especially for biohazards and they should be marked with a biohazard symbol.

Liquid biohazards must be placed in leak-proof containers and must be placed in secondary vessels and marked as biohazards. Sharp biohazards must be placed in containers that are puncture-proof and leak resistant.

Last but not the least, pathological biohazards must be double-bagged and placed also in secondary containers and incinerated.

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