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Eurofound's EU PolicyWatch collates information on the responses of government and social partners to the COVID-19 crisis, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, as well as gathering examples of company practices aimed at mitigating the social and economic impacts.

Factsheet for measure EU-2017-22/1092 – measures in European Union

Update to the biological agents directive to include SARS-CoV-2

Country European Union , applies eu-wide (or beyond)
Time period Open ended, started on 03 June 2017
Context COVID-19
Type Legislations or other statutory regulations
Category Protection of workers, adaptation of workplace
– Occupational health and safety
Author Barbara Surdykowska and Eurofound
Measure added 10 September 2020 (updated 23 September 2020)

Background information

On 3 June 2020, the European Commission adopted an update of the Biological Factors Directive (2000/54/EC) to include SARS-CoV-2 in the list of biological agents it covers (the Annex III to the directive was amended).

The Biological Agents Directive is the seventh individual directive within the meaning of Article 16(1) of Directive 89/391/EEC. For the purpose of this Directive: 'biological agents' shall mean micro-organisms, including those which have been genetically modified, cell cultures and human endoparasites, which may be able to provoke any infection, allergy or toxicity. According to the Directive employers must keep abreast of new developments in technology with a view to improving the protection of workers' health and safety.

Content of measure

According to unanimously recommendation of experts from all Member States the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was classified in group 3 of biological agents. Such classification means an obligation for increased protection for workers in labs, industrial processes and isolation facilities in health care in any coronavirus threat situation. The following criteria were considered relevant in relation to SARS-CoV-2:

  • it can cause severe human disease and present a serious hazard to workers;
  • it may present a risk of spreading to the community;
  • there is usually effective prophylaxis available.

Member States shall bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with this Directive by 24 November 2020 at the latest.

Use of measure

All employees in the EU.

Target groups

Workers Businesses Citizens
Applies to all workers Applies to all businesses Does not apply to citizens

Actors and funding

Actors Funding
EU (Council, EC, EP)
No special funding required

Social partners

Social partners' role in designing the measure and form of involvement:

Trade unions Employers' organisations
Role Consulted Consulted
Form Consultation through tripartite or bipartite social dialogue bodies Consultation through tripartite or bipartite social dialogue bodies

Social partners' role in the implementation, monitoring and assessment phase:

  • No involvement
  • Main level of involvement: EU level


Social partners were involved in the process of designing through the tripartite Advisory Committee on Health and Safety at Work.

Views and reactions

The reactions of the social partners were positive, although the trade unions (ETUC) did not agree with including SARS-CoV-2 only as a group 3 agent (in Annex III of the Directive). In their opinion the virus needs to be in group 4 as a high risk factor for workers' health.


  • 03 June 2020: COMMISSION DIRECTIVE (EU) 2020/739 of 3 June 2020 amending Annex III to Directive 2000/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the inclusion of SARS-CoV-2 in the list of biological agents known to infect humans and amending Commission Directive (EU) 2019/1833 (


Eurofound (2020), Update to the biological agents directive to include SARS-CoV-2 , measure EU-2017-22/1092 (measures in European Union), EU PolicyWatch, Dublin,


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Disclaimer: This information has not been subject to the full Eurofound evaluation, editorial and publication process.