Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the subject of biosafety and biosecurity has garnered attention around the world. This is largely based on the theories surrounding the laboratory origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which caused COVID-19. Nonetheless, biosafety has always remained a crucial element for research and biotechnology industries working with biological agents. A recently published article by Kings College London has revealed that only 25% of Biosafety Level (BSL) 4 labs around the world, handling the most dangerous pathogens, received high scores in biosafety. BSL-4 labs are containment facilities designed to handle the most pathogenic biological agents. The outcome of the analysis suggests an improvement in bio risk management and biosafety is required.
The Safety, Health and Welfare At Work (Biological Agents) Regulations defines a “Biological agent” as “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…”
Biological agents are classified into 4 risk groups according to their level of risk of infection, as follows:
It is important for employers to note where work involving, or is likely to involve, exposure to Group 2, 3 or 4 biological agents, a notification must to be made to the Health & Safety Authority in advance of the work commencing.
When handling biological agents, the containment level (also referred to as biosafety level – BSL-1 to BSL-4) must be considered. These are safe methods for managing biological agents in the laboratory environment with the aim of reducing or eliminating exposure to employees. The containment level must be determined by the biological agent risk assessment. The minimum containment levels for each biological agent group are as follows:
CL4 is the highest level of containment with increased isolation and more stringent controls in place to prevent exposure to personnel.
As previously mentioned, the aim of biosafety is to prevent harmful exposure from the use of biological agents to employees in the workplace. Some of the ways this can be achieved is through the following practises:
While all the above are necessary for an efficient biosafety programme, it is important to remember the consequences of failure in biosafety can be substantial. Studies over the years have shown that exposure to biological agents have caused the greatest number of laboratory acquired infections to personnel. For example, exposure to Salmonella Typhi (a Group 3 biological agent) via the ingestion route, can cause Typhoid fever with symptoms that can range from mild (fever, vomiting) to very severe (gastrointestinal haemorrhage). It is therefore essential that organisations maintain and adhere to an effective biosafety programme.
CMSE Consultancy provide professional services for biosafety in the workplace.
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