Biological Monitoring

What Is Biological Monitoring?

Biological monitoring involves analysis of breath, urine or blood samples collected from employees when there is a possiblility of substances being absorbed into the body.

What Does You Employer Have To Do?

Many jobs involve using chemicals which can harm your health if they are not properly handled. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994 (COSHH) your employer has to look for the risks to your health from chemicals in the workplace. Your employer must make sure that your exposure to chemicals is either prevented, or properly controlled. To do this he or she may need to measure your amount of chemical exposure.

How Can Chemicals Enter Your Body?

The main ways that chemicals can enter your body are:

  • by breathing them in;
  • by absorbing them through the skin; or
  • by swallowing them. This can happen if your hands become contaminated at work and you do not wash them before eating, drinking or smoking.

If you are exposed to chemicals in the job you do, the most common way of finding out how much you are exposed to is to measure how much of the chemical is present in the air you breathe in. However, this does not tell you how much of the chemical has actually entered your body. In particular, it does not measure how much has entered your body through the skin or by swallowing. This is why we sometimes recommend biological monitoring for certain chemicals.

How Can The Amount Of Chemicals Absorbed Into Your Body Be Measured?

Biological monitoring can be used to indicate how much of a chemical has entered your body. It involves measuring the chemical you are exposed to at work (or what it breaks down into) in a sample of your breath, urine or blood. Which of these three samples is used depends on how the chemical you are exposed to is processed by your body. Biological monitoring is often used together with air monitoring.

Biological monitoring is especially useful when:

  • there is likely significant absorption through the skin; and
  • control of your exposure depends on personal protective equipment and your employer needs to check it is protecting you. Courtesy of HSE web site.
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