National Biosafety Month 2023: The value of written procedures



For National Biosafety Month 2023, Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) encourages labs to develop written standard operating procedures (SOPs) for procedures involving biohazards. Download a customizable biosafety SOP template or build your own.

SOPs are written instructions that detail all the steps to be performed in an experiment or procedure. Additionally, SOPs should include information about potential hazards involved and ways to mitigate the hazards. Well-written SOPs help ensure consistency, accuracy, and quality of data; they can also meet compliance requirements, help reduce errors, and be used in training researchers.

Additional benefits of maintaining robust documentation practices are listed below.

  • Use your SOPs as training tools. New personnel come with diverse ranges of experience. Having updated documentation of work practices and procedures ensures that researchers can learn lab-specific operations and document their training progression. Use a log to document who is trained on each SOP. A training log template can be found in the EH&S biosafety SOP template.
  • Learn from the past. As research progresses, workflows are refined, and lessons can be learned from the successes and failures. Utilize SOPs to document lessons learned so fellow researchers can avoid repeating mistakes and learn effective techniques. If an exposure or accident occurs, it is best practice to compare what happened to the written SOP to determine if the procedure needs to be modified to incorporate safer practices or equipment. Report any exposures, accidents, or injuries to EH&S within 24 hours via the Online Accident Reporting System (OARS); some incidents require immediate reporting.
  • Use SOPs for compliance. Sometimes a written SOP is a regulatory requirement. For example, those who work with human source material or bloodborne pathogens (BBP) are required by Washington State to have a site-specific Bloodborne Pathogens Exposure Control Plan that identifies procedures with potential for exposure to BBP and what controls are used to mitigate hazards. EH&S offers a Site-Specific BBP Exposure Control Plan template as a supplement to the UW Core BBP Exposure Control Plan.

Developing an SOP for a procedure is a great step toward greater safety practices. Use the following curated tips to build a more impactful SOP:

  • Review regularly: SOPs can become out of date and differ from actual practices so treat them as living documents with a regular review schedule. Consider new innovations in the field such as new substitutions for hazards. Use the Laboratory risk assessment tool (Lab R.A.T) as a framework to assess risk for a procedure and identify if current controls need to be reconsidered.
  • Solicit outside feedback: Procedures within the lab can become normalized as the standard and contribute to a “we’ve always done it this way” mindset. Outside groups may perform variations on the procedure and can offer innovative strategies. Collaborating with outside groups can add fresh perspectives.
  • Use clear and concise language: Even if the primary users of the SOP will be subject matter experts, using plain language allows the SOP to be used by new staff and outside collaborators.

The EH&S Biosafety team is here to support your success in safety. We are available to review and provide feedback to enhance your SOPs for procedures involving biohazards. If you have questions or would like to consult with an EH&S biosafety officer, contact us at or 206-221-7770.