Working Safely in a Biological Lab
What is Biosafety?
Biosafety is the principles, practices, procedures, and containment measures designed to prevent the accidental exposure to or release of biological agents and toxins.
The primary goal of biosafety is to protect personnel and the environment from exposures to biohazardous agents.
Personnel includes you, your labmates, and the facilities staff who maintain your clean working environment.
It's a simple 3-step process:
Identify the hazards
Understand the risks associated with those hazards
Develop ways to minimize or remove the associated risks
Conducting a research risk assessment should be performed periodically throughout the year and before commencement of all new research procedures.
Conduct a Risk Assessment
1. Identify the hazard (also refer to Risk Assessment webpage)
2. Assess potential risk to personnel and/or environment:
• Identify Risk Group
• What is the scale of work – volume, concentration, etc.
• What are the procedures/manipulations – aerosol generating? Use of sharps?
• Determine pathogenicity – is it wild-type or attenuated? What is the infectious dose?
• What is the route of entry?
• Are prophylaxis treatments available?
• Are personnel trained?
• Any risk to immuno-compromised or pregnant personnel?
3. Determine appropriate containment
Simple Ways to Reduce Risk
Use of a Biological Safety Cabinet (BSC)
A biological safety cabinet is the primary means by which to reduce the exposure to potentially infectious agents, especially when aerosols may be generated procedurally. Aerosols are generated during many common laboratory procedures, including pipetting, vortexing, centrifugation, sonication, etc.
When working within a BSC, it is important to remember the following:
Always decontaminate work surfaces before and after use.
Do not block the front or back airvents as this greatly compromises the sterility of the BSC environment and decreases the protection it offers you.
Do not use volatile chemicals in the BSC (micro amounts are permissible) as it will not protect you or your labmates from the chemical exposure.
Biological waste (including sharps) should be collected within the BSC when possible.
Always use a non-porous chair when working within a BSC. Cloth chairs are NOT allowed as they can not be decontaminated. Blech.
Be sure to still wear a lab coat and gloves as minimum PPE (personal protective equipment) - your hands and arms are still getting exposed to aerosols within the cabinet.
Use of a Centrifuge for Biological Samples
Centrifugation within a biological research setting can potentially pose an exposure hazard due to the possibility for aerosolization of biological material.
It is essential that sealed rotors or safety cups with airtight seals be used when centrifuging BSL-2 material.
Centrifuge rotors and buckets should be loaded and unloaded within a BSC and decontaminated before and removal from the BSC.
After centrifuge use the interior of the centrifuge should be decontaminated with an appropriate disinfectant for the biological used.
Proper housekeeping of a research laboratory can greatly reduce the possibility of exposure and increase research integrity at the same time.
Remember the follow key items in regards to laboratory housekeeping:
1. Non-research personnel also enter your laboratory (custodians, maintenance personnel, visiting scientists). It is essential to keep pathways clear of debris as to not inhibit their ability to perform their daily tasks and prevent egress in the event of an emergency.
2. Keeping lab benches clear of clutter reduces the possibility of spills, especially near the edge of the bench where passersby could knock an item off of the bench and create and exposure.
3. Spills within the lab should be cleaned IMMEDIATLEY by LAB PERSONNEL. Custodians should not attend to laboratory spills and potentially place themselves at risk of exposure. Research staff are responsible for cleaning of all spills of laboratory materials within the lab.
4. Life safety systems (eyewash, safety shower, fire extinguishers) should be kept clear of clutter and should have a clear path to and from at all times.
Working with Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acids
All recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid research requires prior approval by the Dartmouth Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC). The NIH Guidelines For Research Involving Recombinant Or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules outlines the specific oversight aspects for rDNA research and any deviations from these guidelines is a reportable violation.
Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment
The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is an essential part of any laboratory safety program and varies from lab to lab depending upon the hazards and risks associated with the research.
The following PPE items should be utilized/available at all times within all Dartmouth biological research laboratories:
Closed toe shoes
Clothes that cover the entire leg
Hand protection (gloves of Nitrile or N-Dex)
Eye protection (splash goggles)
Mucous membrane protection (surgical mask, splash shield)