menu

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Internal resources menu

Biological safety

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999 (COSHH, updated 2002) requires the use of biological agents in the workplace to be controlled. The control depends on the level of hazard that the biological agent poses. If it is not reasonable or practical to prevent exposure to biological agents, the biological agent involved in the activity should be the least harmful that the nature of the activity will permit. In order to establish the containment level and identify any potential hazards associated with a biological agent a BioCOSHH form should be completed - found below.

It is strongly recommended that you attend the course “Working safely with Biological Hazards” (HS020) run by OHSD through CAPD before you complete the risk assessment and start any work.

BioCOSHH

The level of containment applied must be determined by carrying out a risk assessment as required by COSHH. 

The appropriate Hazard Group and Level of Containment will be confirmed to both the project proposer and Head of School, together with other relevant advice including:

View the full lists issued by DEFRA and the Home Office.

Your risk assessment should include consideration of:

  • The biological agent that may be present;
  • What hazard group they belong to - see 'Hazard group identification' below;
  • What form they are in (including the possibility that they form spores or cysts that are resilient to disinfection, or go through a developmental cycle in which there are non-infectious forms or dependence on an intermediate host);
  • The disease that they may cause;
  • How and where they are present and how they are transmitted;
  • The likelihood of exposure and consequent disease (including the identification of workers who may be particularly susceptible, for example because they are immuno-compromised), drawing on evidence of the prevalence of infection or other ill effect as experienced within a particular type of work or work place;
  • Whether the nature of the activity will permit substitution of a less hazardous agent;
  • The control measures to be applied, and minimisation of the number people exposed;
  • The need for monitoring procedures;
  • The need for health surveillance procedures.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

Notification of any work that falls within the official definition of Genetic Modification (GM) must be raised with the SBCS Biological Safety Officer Dr Shane Wilkinson (s.r.wilkinson@qmul.ac.uk) and the QMUL Genetic Modification Committee via Mark Ariyanayagam (m.r.ariyanayagam@qmul.ac.uk). Procedures for risk assessment and safety management set out in current legislation and in the Scientific Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification (SACGM) Compendium of Guidance, must be in place before work is commenced.

This includes any cloning into E. coli for the purposes of gene or DNA analysis.

It is strongly recommended that you attend the course “Genetic Modification Risk Assessments and Notification” (HS029) run by OHSD through CAPD before you complete the risk assessment and start any work

Hazard group identification

A register of all human (Hazard Group 2 or above), animal and plant pathogens is maintained by the OHSD and Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  

Biological hazard groups are identified using the following criteria:

Hazard Group 1 Biological agent(s) unlikely to cause human disease.
Hazard Group 2 A biological agent that causes human disease and may be a hazard to employees; it is unlikely to spread to the community and there is usually effective prophylaxis or effective treatment available.
Hazard Group 3 A biological agent that can cause severe human disease and presents a serious hazard to employees; it may present a risk of spreading to the community, but there is effective prophylaxis or effective treatment available.
Hazard Group 4* A biological agent that can cause severe human disease and is a serious hazard to employees; it is likely to spread to the community and there is usually no effective prophylaxis or treatment available

* There are no hazard group 4 organisms in QMUL.

Prior approval must be given by the SBCS Biological Safety Officer (s.r.wilkinson@qmul.ac.uk) before new pathogenic organisms are brought to the University to ensure:

  1. Facilities are appropriate
  2. An approved risk assessment and ‘local rules’ are in place
  3. Any statutory notifications or licences (e.g. for plant and animal pathogens) are in place

Definition of containment level

The level of containment applied must be determined by carrying out a risk assessment as required by COSHH. The appropriate Hazard Group and Level of Containment will be confirmed, along with any other relevant advice, to: 

  1. The project proposer,
  2. SBCS Biological Safety Officer (s.r.wilkinson@qmul.ac.uk),  
  3. QMUL Genetic Modification Committee via Mark Ariyanayagam (m.r.ariyanayagam@qmul.ac.uk), 
  4. SBCS Health and Safety coordinator: sbcs-healthandsafety@qmul.ac.uk

This assessment should include consideration of:

  • The biological agent that may be present;
  • What hazard group they belong to;
  • What form they are in (including the possibility that they form spores or cysts that are resilient to disinfection, or go through a developmental cycle in which there are non-infectious forms or dependence on an intermediate host);
  • The disease that they may cause;
  • How and where they are present and how they are transmitted;
  • The likelihood of exposure and consequent disease (including the identification of workers who may be particularly susceptible, for example because they are immuno-compromised), drawing on evidence of the prevalence of infection or other ill effect as experienced within a particular type of work or work place;
  • Whether the nature of the activity will permit substitution of a less hazardous agent;
  • The control measures to be applied, and minimisation of the number people exposed;
  • The need for monitoring procedures;
  • The need for health surveillance procedures.

Download the BioCOSHH form [DOC 116KB] or access the BioCOSHH risk assessment form on the OHSD site.

Authorisation of work at containment level 2 or above

The Occupational Health and Safety Directorate at QMUL must be informed of plans to work with hazardous biological agents in group 2 and above.

If handling hazard group 3 agents is proposed, the project must be considered by the College Pathogen and Genetic Manipulation Committee which is permanent sub-committee of OHSD.
Additionally, any changes in existing procedures that result, or are likely to result in an increased risk from a biological agent, must be identified to OHSD.

Within SBCS there are several containment level 2 hoods designated for tissue culture, microbiology or fungi. There is one containment level 3 facility.

For more information approach the SBCS health and safety officers or contact: sbcs-healthandsafety@qmul.ac.uk

Transportation of biological samples

  • Transportation within the department

This must be assessed using the BioCOSHH form and evaluated according to the hazard group.

Download the BioCOSHH form [DOC 116KB] or access the BioCOSHH risk assessment form on the OHSD site.

  • Sending samples

If you want to transport samples you are legally liable for the contents of the package. It is therefore advised that all senders complete the online accredited training module for shippers. This covers the safe transport of infectious substances, biological/patient specimens, dry ice and related materials.

Furthermore, if you are transporting samples from a country in which either human or environmental pathogens can be found you must be granted agreement from DEFRA.

Further information can be found in the Defra Animal Pathogens: Guidance on Controls brochure

Disposal of biological samples

As part of the BioCOSHH the disposal of biological samples should be outlined. For example:
Containment level 1 Deactivate using detergent and dispose of into clinical waste bins
Containment level 2 Deactivate, autoclave and dispose of into clinical waste bins
 

For further advice on anything covered on this page contact the SBCS Health and Safety coordinator: sbcs-healthandsafety@qmul.ac.uk

Return to top