Let’s Talk Laboratory Biosafety Levels

Understanding laboratory biosafety levels is important for staff and personnel

by | Mar 10, 2023

Keeping your community, the environment, and people safe

As per the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BMBL Section III, there are four Biosafety Levels for activities involving infectious microorganisms and laboratory animals. The levels are designated in ascending order, by the degree of protection provided to personnel, the environment, and the community. The following are some brief descriptions of Laboratory Biosafety Levels:

Biosafety Level 1 (BS-1)

Biosafety Level 1 is suitable for work involving well-characterized agents not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adult humans and of minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment. The laboratory is not necessarily separated from the general traffic patterns in the building. Work is generally conducted on open benchtops using standard microbiological practices. Special containment equipment or facility design is neither required nor generally used. Laboratory personnel have specific training in the procedures conducted in the laboratory and are supervised by a scientist with general training in microbiology or related science.

Biosafety Level 2 (BS-2)

Biosafety Level 2 is similar to Biosafety Level 1 and is suitable for work involving agents of moderate potential hazard to personnel and the environment. It differs from BSL-1 in that (1) laboratory personnel have specific training in handling pathogenic agents and are directed by competent scientists; (2) access to the laboratory is limited when work is being conducted; (3) extreme precautions are taken with contaminated sharp items; and (4) certain procedures in which infectious aerosols or splashes may be created are conducted in biological safety cabinets or other physical containment equipment.

Biosafety Level 3 (BS-3)

Biosafety Level 3 applies to clinical, diagnostic, teaching, research, or production facilities in which work is done with indigenous or exotic agents that may cause serious or potentially lethal disease as a result of exposure by the inhalation route. Laboratory personnel have specific training in handling pathogenic and potentially lethal agents and are supervised by competent scientists who are experienced in working with these agents. All procedures involving the manipulation of infectious materials are conducted within biological safety cabinets or other physical containment devices, or by personnel wearing appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment. The laboratory has special engineering and design features.

Biosafety Level 4 (BS-4)

Biosafety Level 4 is required for work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening diseases. Agents with a close or identical antigenic relationship to Biosafety Level 4 agents are handled at this level until sufficient data are obtained either to confirm continued work at this level or to work with them at a lower level. Members of the laboratory staff have specific and thorough training in handling extremely hazardous infectious agents and they understand the primary and secondary containment functions of the standard and special practices, the containment equipment, and the laboratory design characteristics. They are supervised by competent scientists who are trained and experienced in working with these agents. Access to the laboratory is strictly controlled by the laboratory director. The facility is either in a separate building or in a controlled area within a building, which is completely isolated from all other areas of the building. A specific facility operations manual is prepared or adopted. Within work areas of the facility, all activities are confined to Class III biological safety cabinets, or Class II biological safety cabinets used with one-piece positive pressure personnel suits ventilated by a life support system. The Biosafety Level 4 laboratory has special engineering and design features to prevent microorganisms from being disseminated into the environment.

For more information, visit the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website

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