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Biological Monitoring

Last updated: September 27, 2018

What Does Biological Monitoring Mean?

Biological monitoring, or biomonitoring, is a way to assess a worker’s biological intake of a chemical by measuring the presence of either the chemical itself or its breakdown products in a biological sample.

Samples taken for biomonitoring commonly include blood, breath, and urine samples, but they may be taken from elsewhere if necessary.

Safeopedia Explains Biological Monitoring

Biomonitoring samples provide a more comprehensive and individualized measure of a worker’s contact with chemical substances than environmental exposure monitoring does. Biological monitoring may also include effect-focused monitoring, which measures the impact that exposure to a chemical or to multiple chemicals is having on workers.

Biological monitoring is usually undertaken in the workplace as part of a broader medical surveillance program, either due to an ongoing workplace risk or due to an accidental exposure incident. It is used as an effective way to measure a worker’s total uptake of a given chemical from all sources of contact (i.e. skin absorption, inhalation, or ingestion).

Higher than expected levels of a chemical may indicate that existing exposure measures are inaccurate and that an unaccounted for source of exposure exists in the workplace. Similarly, biomonitoring that demonstrates an unexpected health impact due to chemical exposure may show an individual worker's susceptibility to the chemical, or it could indicate that substances present in the workplace have a synergistic effect, thus posing a greater hazard when workers are exposed to them in combination.

In addition to measuring physical health, biological monitoring also provides employers with information about the effectiveness of their hazard controls. The efficacy of personal protective equipment, worker safety training, and other workplace safety controls that are designed to limit exposure to harmful substances may be confirmed through the results of a biomonitoring program. Because biological monitoring involves collecting employees' biological data, it is a sensitive matter that raises privacy concerns and is typically not a legally required part of occupational safety programs. The exception to this is in workplaces where employees are exposed to highly toxic substances, such as cadmium, which poses a significant enough risk to worker health that employers face ongoing biomonitoring duties.




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