Division 4 Hazardous Substances and Biological Agents

Division 4 is responsible for improving the protection of employees working with hazardous substances and biological agents (pathogens). To this end, it describes material health hazards, assesses them and proposes protective measures to reduce the risks of employees to a socially acceptable level. The starting points are in particular the results of research and development projects, but also many years of experience from statutory tasks and policy advice for ministries and other stakeholders in occupational health and safety.

In order to perform its diverse tasks efficiently, the department is divided into the sections 4.I "Hazardous Substances, Chemical Safety" and 4.II "Biological Agents, Biocides". 4.I looks at the protection of employees from the perspective of chemical safety and the associated marketing requirements in the EU as well as the manufacture and use of hazardous substances at work. 4.II focuses on the health risks posed by biological agents at work and the safe use of biocidal products, which have inherently hazardous properties due to their effect profile. Both areas work closely together. This becomes particularly evident in toxicology and biomonitoring issues.

Research and development projects in the department are geared towards policy advice and issues arising from legal tasks. The results facilitate authorization decisions, the development of legislation and the technical regulations on occupational health and safety. The projects are carried out in our own modern laboratories and as part of field studies in companies and, if advisable, supported by external research services.

At national level, Department 4 advises the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) on the further development and implementation of the Ordinance on Hazardous Substances and the Ordinance on Preventive Occupational Medicine. At European level, the focus is on shaping the European directives on occupational health and safety for chemical and biological substances and the legal tasks relating to chemical safety in the EU. One focus here is the linking of requirements for the safe marketing of hazardous substances with the operational level in order to create synergies for occupational safety. While this interface has been the focus of the department for some time, a new focus area is currently developing from the EU chemicals strategy for sustainability with the goal of a "toxic-free" environment and the EU raw materials strategy, which aims to keep relevant substances (including carcinogenic metals) in material cycles for as long as possible through recycling. Department 4 sees itself as being called upon to support the resulting far-reaching changes in the world of work with regard to the protection of employees at both a legal and practical level.

Section 4.I "Hazardous substances, chemical safety"

The safe design of activities involving hazardous substances in the workplace is the central topic of section 4.I "Hazardous substances, chemical safety". Hazardous substances can be produced and used as chemicals at workplaces or be generated by work processes (e. g. welding fumes). The legal framework for section 4.I is formed by the German and European occupational health and safety regulations and the EU regulations on chemical safety. Typical regulations in the area of occupational health and safety are the European directives on hazardous substances in general and on carcinogenic hazardous substances, which are implemented in Germany in the Hazardous Substances Ordinance. The central regulations of European chemical safety are the CLP and REACH regulations. They serve to harmonize the classification and labelling of chemical substances and mixtures and describe procedures for companies to register, evaluate and authorize chemical substances in the EU.

A current overarching topic is the chemicals strategy for sustainability as part of the EU Commission's Green Deal. The chemicals strategy will result in changes to many legal provisions and thus to the focus on safe activities involving hazardous substances. Another driver of far-reaching changes to material flows is the EU Commission's goal of increasingly keeping strategic raw materials, which in many cases are also hazardous substances, in cycles in order to make the EU more resilient to external influences. The section actively supports these changes with a view to emerging occupational health and safety issues.

The tasks of section 4.I are policy advice on the further development of hazardous substances legislation and technical regulations, statutory tasks as the coordination and assessment unit OSH for the CLP and REACH regulations and the transfer of knowledge to support practical occupational health and safety action with a focus on SMEs. A current topic in the further development of chemical safety is the regulation of fibre materials that release respirable fibre dusts.

The scientific basis for these tasks is provided by application-oriented research and development (R&D) on the aforementioned topics.

Current R&D focal topics include

  • model development and data generation to improve exposure assessment and evaluation for activities involving hazardous substances
  • better integration of exposure and use-related data into chemical safety assessment procedures
  • Methods for risk assessment of fibre materials and particulate hazardous substances in the workplace
  • Further development of the simple concept of measures for hazardous substances (EMKG) for risk assessment.

The Committee on Hazardous Substances (AGS), whose office is located in section 4.I, is the most important body in Germany for the specification of occupational health and safety regulations. In addition to managing the committee, the section is involved in the development of technical regulations in order to support state-of-the-art occupational safety.

Section 4.II "Biological Agents, Biocides"

Section 4.II focuses on dealing with key issues relating to occupational health and safety when working with biological agents and biocides. In Germany, several million employees carry out activities in which they directly use biological agents (pathogenic microorganisms) such as bacteria, fungi or viruses (e. g. in laboratories) or are exposed to them as a result of their work, e. g. in the healthcare sector. Bioaerosols pose a particular challenge here, as they are in some workplaces very complex in their composition and the associated hazards. The legal basis for the protection of employees from biological agents is the European Biological Agents Directive and the German implementation in the Biological Agents Ordinance. Disinfectants are one means of controlling exposure to biological agents in the workplace. They represent an important group of biocides that are used to combat harmful organisms. As part of its statutory duties as an assessment unit OSH under the European Biocidal Products Regulation, Section 4.II ensures that all necessary expertise is pooled and that marketing requirements are met to ensure that both biocidal active substances and biocidal products do not pose any unacceptable risks to employees when used.

Biomonitoring plays a special role in this area. This involves investigating the absorption of substances into the body at work. Biomonitoring based on the analysis of blood, urine or exhaled air allows the assessment of individual health risks and provides input for exposure assessment. In many cases, biomonitoring is also part of preventive occupational health care.

The basis for performing tasks in section 4.II is application-oriented research and development (R&D) on the topics mentioned.

Current R&D focal areas include

  • Research questions at the interface between infection control and occupational health and safety
  • Methods for risk assessment of biological substances in the workplace
  • Field studies and laboratory studies on the release of and exposure to bioaerosols using state-of-the-art OMICS methods
  • Field and laboratory studies on biomonitoring by analysing blood, urine or exhaled air
  • The collection and modelling of exposure data for approval procedures

The Committee on Biological Agents (ABAS), whose office is located in section 4.II, is the most important body for the specification of occupational health and safety regulations for activities involving biological agents in Germany. In addition to managing the organization, the section is involved in the development of technical regulations to support state-of-the-art occupational safety. Section 4.II also contributes to the occupational health rules developed by the Occupational Medicine Committee and supports the work of the Committee on Hazardous Substances on the technical rules for biocides.

Further Information


Director and Professor Dr Rüdiger Pipke

Head of
Division 4 Hazardous Substances and Biological Agents

Dr Rolf Packroff

Scientific Management
Division 4 Hazardous Substances and Biological Agents

Prof. Dr Thomas Kuhlbusch

Head of
Section 4.I Hazardous Substances, Chemical Safety

PD Dr Udo Jäckel

Head of
Section 4.II Biological Agents, Biocides

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