Responsibility for risks of infection in the work environment
The employer is responsible for the work environment. The employer’s systematic work environment management includes investigating whether employees are at risk of being exposed to infectious agents or other harmful biological agents.
If you do not have sufficient competence to carry out investigations and risk assessments of microbiological occupational risks yourself, you need to enlist outside help.
When there are microbiological occupational risks, the following is included in your responsibility as employer:
- Make sure to investigate which microbiological health hazards exist and assess the risk they may pose to the employees.
- Make sure to remedy risks and take protective measures when necessary according to the risk assessment.
- Give the employees the instructions and the information they need to safely perform their work. This includes ensuring that everyone has understood the instructions and that the employee has sufficient knowledge of the risks in the business.
- Provide the employees with personal protective equipment if necessary.
- Report serious accidents or incidents to the Swedish Work Environment Authority.
- Apply for permit or register the activities with the Swedish Work Environment Authority in certain cases when there is intentional work with infectious agents.
The rules on, amongst other things, investigating the risk of exposure to harmful biological agents and protective equipment requirements can be found in our provisions on risks of infection (AFS 2018:4).
Risks of infection (AFS 2018:4), Provisions (SWE)
The employee can also contribute to the health and safety work
Are you risking exposure to harmful biological agents such as infectious agents, mould, or products of microbiological activity in your line of work? If so, it is extra important to use the designated protective equipment. If you need personal protective equipment, the employer shall provide you with this. These things also help reduce the risks in your line of work:
- You are responsible for complying with the employer’s codes of practice and safety instructions.
- You shall report incidents and accidents to management without delay.
- You shall also report to the employer if you suffer ill-health that may be connected to the biological agents that may occur in the workplace.
The safety representative is the link between the employees and the employer
You as safety representative (health and safety representative) are the chosen representative of the employees in health and safety matters, but you are not personally responsible for the work environment. The employer also benefits from having the safety representative keep an eye on work environment matters.
The employer and the union have a joint responsibility to ensure that new safety representatives receive the necessary training for performing their duties. Safety representatives shall participate in the planning of all matters related to the work environment, such as:
- discussions prior to remodelling or moving
- preparations for a reorganisation
- how to implement new work methods
- how to use hazardous chemical products.
Read more on what you should consider in your role as safety representative on the page Safety representatives and Health and safety representatives.
Coordination and collaboration are crucial
It is not only the employees directly involved in the activities who are in need of protection, but all employees who may be exposed to the infectious agents in the workplace. In workplaces where individuals have different employers, health and safety work must be coordinated.
It is common to hire cleaning firms and other service companies. In laboratories and in hospitals where there are risks of infection, for example, those who clean and others who provide services to the activities often need to be informed of the risks. If there is a risk of infection, there shall be written instructions in a language understood by the relevant parties if they are to clean in laboratories where work on infectious agents is carried out.
You will find more information in the Work Environment Act and in the regulations on risks of infection (AFS 2018:4).
Breach of provisions may lead to sanction fees
The following is a brief description of what applies and when breach of provisions may carry a sanction fee. Two stipulations in the provisions on microbiological work environment risks - infection, toxigenic effect, hypersensitivity (AFS 2005:1) carry sanction fees instead of fines. Section 20 covers prohibition to expose pregnant employees to certain infectious agents and Section 21 covers registers for employees who may risk exposure to certain infectious agents.
Prohibition to expose pregnant employees to certain infectious agents – Section 20
It is prohibited to allow a pregnant employee to perform tasks that risk exposing her to rubella virus (rubella) or toxoplasma if she lacks satisfactory protection against the infectious agent in question. Both infectious agents may have severe consequences if you are infected during pregnancy.
If the employer violates the prohibition, the Swedish Work Environment Authority may decide to impose a sanction fee in the amount of SEK 40 000–400 000 depending on the size of the company. In order for a sanction fee to be imposed, these minimum requirements must be met:
- the pregnant employee has informed the employer that she is pregnant
- there is a risk of harmful exposure to one or both infectious agents
- the pregnant employee lacks satisfactory protection against the infectious agent in question
- the employer, in spite of this, instructs the employee to perform tasks where she risks exposure to the infectious agent.
Some are exempted from the stipulation on sanction fee. This applies to sole traders and those who together with a family member operate such a business, or those engaging in such business activities for their joint account. You should still not expose yourself to certain infections during a pregnancy.
You will find more information on sanction fees on the page Sanction fees.
You will also find more information on the rules on pregnant and breastfeeding employees in the Regulation on Pregnant and Breastfeeding Workers (AFS 2007:5).
Facts on rubella and toxoplasma
What is rubella?
Rubella virus causes rubella (or German measles), which is a classic, infectious children’s disease. Most fertile women in Sweden have been vaccinated against rubella and have a satisfactory immune protection. But it cannot be presumed that all women are protected. It is, however, possible to find out. Many county councils offer pregnant women testing on whether they have an immune response to the rubella virus.
What is toxoplasma?
Toxoplasma is a parasite that may occur in, for example, raw meat or cat faeces. The toxoplasma parasite is not transmittable from human to human but may be transferred to the foetus. There is no vaccine for toxoplasma.
Where can I find more information?
More information on infections can be found at INFPREG, knowledge centre for infections during pregnancy. You will find more information on various infectious agents on the Public Health Agency of Sweden’s pages on communicable disease control and diseases. You will find more information on zoonoses such as toxoplasma at the National Veterinary Institute (SVA).
Requirement for register on exposure to infectious agents
Registers are required in cases of exposure to infectious agents in risk group 3 or 4 (Section 21)
The employer shall keep a register of those employees who risk exposure to infectious agents in risk group 3 or 4. The same thing applies if the employee uses such infectious agents in their line of work, even if protective measures are used and no unwanted event has occurred. Examples of activities where such risks exist include:
- work in an infection clinic
- paramedic work
- work with animals that may be assumed to be infected with infectious agent in risk group 3 or 4
- laboratory work with infectious agents in risk group 3 or 4.
Normally, it is not necessary to register employees who only handle such infectious agents in fully contained systems or entirely decontaminated material from activities handling infectious agents.
What does the register requirement entail?
The requirement only applies to keeping a register, not to the content of the register. The Swedish Work Environment Authority may impose a sanction fee of SEK 5 000–50 000 depending on the size of the company if there is no register in a business where employees risk exposure to infectious agents in risk group 3 or 4.
Some are exempted from the stipulation on sanction fee. This applies to sole traders and those who together with a family member operate such a business, or those engaging in such business activities for their joint account.
Upon confirmed exposure, the register allows tracking other employees who might have been exposed to hazardous infectious agents at the same time. It is also possible to track what has happened so it does not happen again.
The register does not need to be comprehensive. In some cases, it may be sufficient to save a personnel roster if it is clear who has worked where and during what period of time. In other cases, it may suffice to keep a log where names, dates, and infectious agents are noted upon entry into a containment laboratory. If an unwanted event occurs, this shall of course also be documented. For example, you could save a copy of the information submitted to the Swedish Work Environment Authority or the Swedish Social Insurance Agency in connection with an accident or a serious incident.
Last updated 2020-06-24