Biological Research Safety

image of gloved hands working inside a biosafety cabinet

The Biological Safety program is designed to maintain safe conditions in biological research and prevent harm to humans, animals and the environment. Safe biological research includes appropriate facilities and equipment, adequate training, proper laboratory practices and safe working conditions. Biological safety helps protect the UW community of students, faculty, staff and visitors. It also helps maintain our academic excellence and integrity and ensure research funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other funding sources. Good biological safety practices protect the environment from release of potentially harmful agents. The Biological Safety program includes oversight for compliance and safety, training and outreach, institutional support for incident response, building design, and collaboration with UW committees such as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and Institutional Review Board (IRB).

You can find detailed information about biosafety in the UW Biosafety Manual including biosafety policies and safe work practices. If you are working with biohazards, be sure that an electronic link or paper copy of the UW Biosafety Manual is available in the laboratory.

Biological research approval

The Biological Safety program and the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) oversee and approve research involving biohazards and procedures for procurement, use, storage, transportation and disposal of biohazardous material. Visit the Biological Research Approval webpage for more information.

Risk assessment and hazard identification

Each Principal Investigator (PI) is responsible for performing a risk assessment of his or her work to identify hazards. The risk assessment helps determine which biohazard containment and laboratory practices are appropriate. Refer to Biological Risk Assessment for more information, including Risk Groups and Biological Safety Levels.

Biosafety laboratory inspections

EH&S biosafety officers inspect laboratories working with biohazards. The goals of biosafety inspections are to ensure lab practices and facilities comply with relevant regulations, to provide guidance on biosafety issues, to verify required trainings have been completed and to facilitate communication between researchers and EH&S. Refer to our inspection checklists to help prepare for your biosafety lab visit:

Biological safety cabinets

Biological safety cabinets (BSCs) are used to protect personnel, products and the environment from exposure to biohazards and cross contamination. Knowing how to work safely in a BSC is key. To learn more about safe practices and how BSCs work, watch this video from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Visit the Biological Safety Cabinets webpage for more information about BSCs.

Decontamination and biohazardous waste

Decontamination eliminates microbial contamination or reduces it to a safe level. The Biosafety Manual details procedures for decontamination in Section 4.E. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a list of registered antimicrobial products that are effective against certain organisms. If you need help selecting an appropriate disinfectant, you can contact the Biological Safety program at ehsbio@uw.eduor 206.221.7770.

Visit the Biohazardous Waste webpage for information on autoclaves and how to handle biohazardous waste at the UW.

Biohazardous spills

If a spill of biohazardous material or recombinant DNA occurs, follow the Biohazardous Spill clean-up instructions. Print these instructions out and keep them in your Biohazardous Spill Kit. If any person is exposed during the spill, follow the instructions on the Exposure Response Poster.

Biohazard warning labels and signs

Biohazard labels

Affix a biohazard warning label to any storage, transport, or waste container used for biohazards.

Biohazard warning sign

The biohazard warning sign restricts laboratory access during work with biohazards, communicates the agents in use, and specifies entry and exit requirements. It is the responsibility of the Principal Investigator or supervisor to properly identify and restrict access to the laboratory and to notify emergency and support personnel of any hazards in the laboratory. Refer to Biohazard Warning Sign for instructions on how to download and use the sign.

What you can do to stay safe

  • Be sure any research with biohazards is approved by the IBC. Apply for Biological Use Authorization (BUA) for any work involving biohazards, including recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA.
  • Follow all of the biosafety containment practices, procedures and additional guidance as specified in your BUA letter and during biosafety lab inspections.
  • Take the required and recommended safety training courses.
  • Be familiar with biohazardous spill clean-up procedures.
  • Use safe practices when working inside a biological safety cabinet. Watch this video from the NIH to learn more.

Services available

EH&S biosafety officers can assist with training, consultation and help with any biosafety questions.

Frequently asked questions