Biosafety: Keeping Harmful Organisms at Bay

Learn about biosafety and how it is practiced to protect people and property from spreading dangerous organisms.

scientists follow biosafety guidelines

What is Biosafety?

Biosafety is the practice of following safety procedures and implementing protective measures to prevent the spread of harmful organisms. It includes awareness, prevention, containment, and management of biosecurity risks in medical or other settings. Research, diagnostics, clinical care, and education are often done in a safe environment to reduce the risk of contamination with or transmission of dangerous pathogens.


Biosafety has many benefits, including the following.

  • It decreases the danger and exposure to hazardous materials
  • Ventilation systems within buildings protect people and the environment from dangerous microorganisms and gases
  • Biosafety creates a sanitary atmosphere
  • Wearing rubber gloves prevents the spread of pathogens and keeps people safe
  • Installing high-efficiency particulate filters that meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards can help shield plants, animals, and people from exposure to hazardous particles

Applications of Biosafety


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that biosafety is beneficial because it allows for analyzing and managing food safety risks, increases collaboration between sectors, improves food safety, and facilitates trade.

Agriculture and Livestock

Farms and livestock businesses employ biosecurity measures to prevent the spread of diseases within their operations and their potential impact on adjacent farms and communities. These measures may include screening animals for illness, restricting movement and contact with other animals, testing water supplies for contaminants, and providing appropriate housing.


Biosafety in the environment involves the prevention and control of plant diseases, animal infestations and illnesses, zoonotic diseases passed from animals to people, genetically modified organisms and their products, and the management of genotypes and invasive species.

Components of Biosafety

Biosafety is about eliminating or minimizing biological contamination, so there are three critical concepts in the field:

  • Biological hazard – The possibility of exposed and uncontrolled contact with organisms leading to infection.
  • Biocontainment – Methods for stopping the spread of infectious diseases from research labs or other locations where they may be developed.
  • Bioprotection – A set of protocols that prevent pathogens and toxins from being lost, stolen, misused, or intentionally released, such as restrictions on accessing facilities, materials storage approaches, and data dissemination practices.

Authorities that Regulate Biosafety Measures

Many governing bodies and regulations mandate the safety protocols needed to protect people, animals, and the environment from the potential harm of biohazardous materials. These include:

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI)

The purpose of BRAI is to enforce the rules of the Bill enacted in Parliament in 2013 about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This agency had ratified the Cartagena Protocol, an agreement between nations governing the transportation of genetically modified organisms.

National Technical Commission on Biosafety (CTNBio)

CTNBio, established by the Ministry of Science and Technology, is responsible for regulation and guidance related to biotechnology activities to protect human health and the environment from hazardous effects.

Genetic Engineering appraisal committee (GEAC)

The GEAC, India’s premier biotechnology regulatory body, oversees the use, production, storage, export, and import of hazardous microorganisms or genetically-engineered organisms and cells within India.

Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)

IBC oversees research involving recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules, as mandated by the National Institutes of Health. The IBC reviews and approves all relevant projects and ensures they comply with the NIH Guidelines.

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Different Biosafety Levels

There are four biosafety levels with designated regulations to contain microbes and biological agents. The containment level is based predominantly on the infectivity, severity of illness, transmission capacity, and type of work conducted. The source of the microbe or agent and how exposure occurs are also factors.

The various biosafety levels require different measures of containment, including:

Below are detailed descriptions of each biosafety level:

Biosafety Level 1 (BSL-1)

Biosafety Level 1 is the lowest and applies to agents without threat to the laboratory personnel or the environment. At this level, agents don’t need to be isolated from the general building, such as a non-pathogenic E. coli strain.

The lab research takes place on the benches without any specialized contamination gear. The following are characteristics of a biosafety level 1 facility:

  • Mechanical pipetting
  • Safe handling of sharps
  • Avoiding splashes or aerosols
  • Washing of hands
  • Prohibition on drinking, smoking, and food in the laboratories
  • Signs of biohazards
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (such as gloves, goggles, lab coats, and gowns)
  • Decontamination of all infectious materials before disposal

Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2)

BSL-2 is comprised of agents that cause human illnesses, for instance, encephalitis virus, HIV, and Staphylococcus aureus. These laboratories require special precautions to protect personnel from hazards such as cuts and ingestions.

Biosafety Level 2 laboratories should follow the following practices:

  • Wearing PPE such as goggles, glasses, and face shields
  • Biological safety cabinets are used for procedures that can cause infections
  • Decontamination should be performed before waste disposal
  • Sinks and eyewashes should be readily available
  • Availability of biohazard signs
  • Installation of self-closing doors

Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3)

Research conducted at BSL-3 is essential in the fight against hazardous pathogens, such as the West Nile virus and yellow fever virus. The microbes being worked on are so dangerous that work must always be supervised and registered with relevant government organizations.

Scientists undertaking experiments under these conditions also need to receive medical surveillance for their safety; access to such labs is highly restricted at all times.

A BSL 3 laboratory must meet the following requirements:

  • Protective equipment, including respirators, must be available
  • Always work in a biosafety cabinet
  • Access to the door should be away from the general building area
  • Researchers receive medical surveillance and immunizations
  • The exit should have a hands-free sink and eyewash station
  • A laboratory should maintain sustained directional airflow by drawing air from clean areas toward potentially contaminated areas

Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4)

In this biosafety level, people function under unsafe circumstances, i.e., in contact with foreign microbes. If anyone contracts these microbes, it could also take them to their demise. Therefore, adequate preventive action is essential at level 4. A Biosafety level 4 laboratory is exceptionally isolated, often situated in a limited region distant from home areas.

Biosafety level 4 laboratories have the following requirements:

  • Upon exiting, researchers should change clothes and shower
  • Decontamination of all materials is essential
  • All experiments should take place in Class III safety cabinets
  • The laboratory has dedicated supply and exhaust air, vacuum lines, and decontamination systems


While biosafety relates mainly to measures that are taken to minimize the risk of exposure when dealing with potentially hazardous situations or agents, biohazard is more about identifying which organisms pose a threat before developing procedures for reducing that risk.

Below is a description of “The Cartagena Protocol” on biosafety.

  • Enhancing the movement of living modified organisms across borders
  • To define and share risk assessment methods and principles by establishing clearinghouses for biosafety.

The introduction of genetic engineering and advancements in biotechnology have also posed a potential threat to human and environmental health. Different regulatory bodies have established biosafety protocols to minimize the risks associated with biological materials. These guidelines are crucial to reduce the risk of dangerous illnesses being transmitted from animals to humans, setting parameters for fending off animal infestations and other hazardous issues, etc.

Biosafety protocols are essential for personnel working in labs and other facilities that handle microbes, prions, and related products. These protocols consist of rules, policies, and procedures to be followed. They were developed to reduce the risks of contamination, accidental release, and cross-contamination from laboratory activities.

Rob Paredes
Article by
Rob Paredes
Rob Paredes is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. He is a content writer who also does copy for websites, sales pages, and landing pages. Rob worked as a financial advisor, a freelance copywriter, and a Network Engineer for more than a decade before joining SafetyCulture. He got interested in writing because of the influence of his friends; aside from writing, he has an interest in personal finance, dogs, and collecting Allen Iverson cards.