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Introduction to Biological Agents in the Faculty
A wide and ever expanding range of biological materials is handled within the Faculty
of Health and Medical Sciences and include:
1. Micro organisms such as bacteria, viruses and fungi, either in pure culture or
contained in natural materials such as water, soil or plant material, clinical
specimens or sewage, etc.
2. Whole experimental animals or specimens from these.
3. Human material in the form of blood or other body fluids, soft tissue samples or
bone explants.
4. Human, animal or plant cells in culture, including both primary cells and
established cell lines.
5. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This includes not only the act of
genetic modification, but also any use of a GMO brought into the Faculty form
outside. The use of GMOs is covered by separate legislation and is the subject
of specific Faculty guidelines.
The hazards of these materials may be:
a) The material is itself infective.
Many of the microorganisms handled in the Faculty are potentially pathogenic
to humans.
b) The material may be the vehicle for a potentially infective agent.
Unscreened human specimens may contain pathogens such as Hepatitis B
virus or HIV, animal material may convey diseases such as Salmonellosis or
Weil's disease, while environmental or food samples can contain pathogens
such as Clostridium botulinum or Listeria monocytogenes. Primary cell
cultures may carry latent viruses.
c) The material may acquire infectivity by contamination.
Sterile blood or serum may be contaminated by experimental or environmental
organisms if it is not properly handled.
Similarly, cell lines may be
contaminated by potentially hazardous adventitious agents.
The first line of defence is to follow Good Microbiological Practice, that is to say the
acquisition of good laboratory habits; careful and efficient technique; proper and
prompt cleansing of apparatus and/or disposal of materials after use; and attention to
personal and general hygiene.
A research worker handling biological material has a responsibility to others.
Accident investigations show that whilst laboratory workers may protect themselves
they frequently show a lack of thought for the consequences to washers-up,
cleaners, porters, etc., whose job is to deal with the by-products of their work.
Although these guidelines concentrate on the risk of human infection, your risk
assessment should also consider potential environmental hazards. This is especially
important for any work with GMOs.
As well as an invective hazard, some biological materials may also be radioactive or
have carcinogenic activity. Due consideration should therefore be given to all
contributors to the level of risk and the proper storage, use and disposal
requirements met. Consult the Biological Safety Officer or your Radiation Protection
Supervisor to establish these procedures before commencing this kind of work.
Hazard groups/Handling of cultures/biological materials in each hazard
All microorganisms are allocated to one of four categories on the basis of their
inherent hazard.
The corresponding levels of containment are intended to
compensate for the microbiological risks encountered when handling pathogens in
the various hazard groups. The risk assessment for biological materials involves an
assessment of the likelihood of the material containing pathogens in these
Organisms are not fixed in their hazard groups; as new information becomes
available they may be moved up or down. ALL micro-organisms and biological
materials should be treated with respect as potential pathogens or vehicles for
pathogens and the general precautions followed at all times.
An organism that is most unlikely to cause human disease.
These organisms must not be assumed to be non-pathogenic and
the general precautions must always be followed. Faculty policy is
to handle these organisms as Group 2.
An organism that may cause human disease and which might be a
hazard to laboratory workers but is unlikely to spread to the
community. Laboratory exposure rarely produces infection and
effective prophylaxis or effective treatment is usually available.
Many commonly used HG2 organisms are potentially pathogenic.
Cultures should not be introduced into a practical class unless the
lecturer is satisfied as to the competence of the students to handle
An organism that may cause severe human disease and presents a
serious hazard to laboratory workers. It may present a risk of
spread to the community but there is usually effective prophylaxis or
treatment available.
These organisms may only be handled at containment level 3, in the
Restricted Laboratory (29 AX 02). Normally only experienced staff
and postgraduate students shall handle them. Final year students
may be allowed to do so but only if directly supervised by, and in the
presence of, a member of the academic staff. Detailed written
protocols must be provided for all proposed work in these
laboratories and prior written approval from the Faculty Safety
Committee is required before bringing Hazard Group 3 organisms,
or materials containing, them into the Faculty.
An organism that causes severe human disease and is a serious
hazard to laboratory workers. It may present a high risk of spread to
the community and there is usually no effective prophylaxis or
The introduction, handling or storage of any material containing live
Group 4 organisms into the Faculty is prohibited.
Guidelines for the Handling of Biological Specimens
All biological material (cultures, specimens, human materials) is to be
categorised as belonging to Hazard Group 2 and handled with appropriate
precautions in Containment Level 2 facilities unless assessment indicates that
it should be placed in Hazard Group 3.
All biological laboratories within the Faculty (except 29 AX 02) are Containment
Level 2 facilities. Your risk assessment should include a check that the
laboratory concerned is approved for the handling of biological material.
The Faculty Safety Adviser and the Biosafety Adviser must be informed before
bringing any new microorganism into the Faculty, as regulatory procedures
from the HSE may need to be followed to keep us legal. The Biosafety Adviser
should be consulted before working with unfamiliar materials or bringing them
into the Faculty. Many biological materials are subject to separate statutory
controls as animal or plant pathogens.
No work with Hazard Group 3 cultures or specimens may proceed before
permission is granted by the Faculty Safety Committee and no Group 3
material may be brought into the Faculty before that permission is granted.
If there is reason to believe that Group 3 organisms are present in material
introduced to the Faculty as Group 2 all work with this material must stop at
once and the material be either transferred to the Containment Level 3
laboratory or destroyed by autoclaving.
All work with GMOs, whether modified in house or acquired from external
sources, must be approved by the Faculty Safety Committee before work
Containment Level 2
Containment level 2 is suitable for work with pathogens in Hazard Group
2 and with biological materials which contain, or could contain, such
organisms. Laboratory personnel must receive instruction and training,
and an appropriate standard of supervision of the work must be
The requirements for a CL2 laboratory are laid down by the HSE (‘The
management, design and operation of microbiological containment
Access to the laboratory should be limited to laboratory personnel
and other specified persons.
General tidiness and cleanliness is essential, benches should be
kept as clear and clean as is practicable and there must be
sufficient bench space to ensure safe working procedures. Books
and papers must be kept separate from areas where biological
materials are being handled.
The laboratory door should be closed when work is in progress.
Laboratory coats must be worn in the laboratory and removed when
leaving the laboratory suite.
Eating, chewing, drinking, smoking, storing of food and applying
cosmetics must not take place in the laboratory. Mouth pipetting
must not take place.
Hands must be disinfected or washed immediately when
contamination is suspected, after handling infective materials, and
also before leaving the laboratory.
In general, work may be conducted on the open bench, but care
must be taken to minimise the production of aerosols. For
manipulations likely to give rise to aerosols (vigorous shaking or
mixing and ultrasonic disruption, etc.), or any work with pathogens
which are known to be transmitted by the airborne route, a
microbiological safety cabinet or other suitable containment must
be used. The cabinet must exhaust to the outside air or to the
laboratory air extract system after filtration e.g. a Class 2 design).
Sealed buckets must be used for the centrifugation of all Hazard
Group 2 microorganisms and any material which might contain
them. .
Effective disinfectants must be available for routine disinfection and
immediate use in the event of spillage. If infectious material is spilt
during a practical class the academic in charge must be informed
Bench tops must be disinfected after use and routinely at the end of
each working day by being wiped down with an appropriate
disinfectant. 'Benchcote' may be used as an additional precaution
but must never be seen as a substitute for a clean, clear bench. It
should be changed frequently and the underlying bench
All waste material, and potentially contaminated glassware or other
equipment, must be made safe before disposal or re-use.
All accidents and incidents must be immediately reported to and
recorded by the person responsible for the work.
Transport of specimens and cultures
Cultures and specimens leaving the Faculty must be properly
packed so that in normal circumstances there is no chance of spills
or leaks.
Special, Biohazard-labeled transport containers must be used for
transport of clinical specimens and cultures of organisms outside
the Faculty (e.g. to and from Manor Farm or the Royal Surrey
County Hospital.
Shipping of cultures or biological materials out of the Faculty must
comply with all national and international regulations. The preferred
shipper, Danvers International, can advise on all aspects of packing
and posting biological materials and also maintains stocks of
approved packing materials.
Please see Rita Dunford in AX
Reception for details.
Material transported between buildings must be suitably packed.
Treatment of infected material
All solid waste material from microbiology laboratories (except
waste paper) and all infected or potentially infected liquid waste
must be effectively autoclaved before disposal.
All infected and potentially infected glassware and other equipment
to be reused must be autoclaved before being washed. If the
equipment cannot be autoclaved the SSA should be consulted
before alternative methods are used.
"Sharps" such as needles and scalpel blades (whether
microbiologically contaminated or not) must be placed in the
special yellow plastic sharps bins, which will be autoclaved and
then incinerated.
Only trained members of staff may operate autoclaves. The
autoclaves are serviced at regular intervals by qualified, competent
engineers. No member of the Faculty may carry out any servicing
procedure or alter the fixed controls.
The use of disinfectants must comply with the Faculty disinfection
policy. The policy can be obtained from the Faculty Safety Adviser
in 33AY03.
Where new disinfectants or procedures are considered necessary
the Biosafety Adviser, Dr Graham Stewart, must be consulted
beforehand. The Biosafety Adviser must have approved the
protocols for the dilution and use of the disinfectant and be satisfied
with its effectiveness against the material in question, before work
This section does not necessarily apply to innocuous natural
material such as water, soil and plant material but users must
consider any potential hazards arising from such items. Discretion
must be exercised in each case and the Biosafety Adviser, Dr
Stewart, must be consulted if there is any doubt as to the correct
Items of equipment must be decontaminated before repair or
maintenance (and always before removal to the Faculty workshop),
whether repairs are carried out by the Faculty staff or an outside
contractor. If decontamination is impossible the Biosafety Adviser
must be consulted before any work is carried out, so that safe
working procedures can be implemented.
Breakage and Spillage Procedure
All breakage of glassware or apparatus containing infectious
material, or spillage of infectious material in teaching laboratories
must be reported immediately to the academic in charge, who will
initiate decontamination procedures.
Breakages and spillages elsewhere should be dealt with by the
nearest competent member of staff. If there is any doubt about the
identity of the spilt material the area should be cleared as a
precaution and specialist advice obtained.
If it is thought that breakage or spillage has occurred in a centrifuge
the machine should remain unopened until a competent person has
been consulted as to suitable decontamination procedures.
Procedure to be followed
Gloves must be worn. Broken glass must not be handled directly,
always use forceps or a dustpan. Wear a respirator if harmful
aerosols are likely.
Disinfectants need adequate contact time to work efficiently. Spills
and contaminated surfaces should be left in contact with liquid
disinfectant for up to 10 minutes.
Simple(non-violent) spillages, not involving broken glass, should be
dealt with by covering the material with paper towels or cloths and
saturating it with a suitable disinfectant (usually Virkon) Always use
correctly prepared disinfectants on spillages.
Rubber gloves should be worn for the collection of used paper
towels and cloths, which should be put into a container for
autoclaving. The surface and gloves should be wiped over with
fresh disinfectant.
Spillages of cultures involving broken glass. Apply a suitable
disinfectant to the spillage. Wearing heavy-duty (non-disposable)
rubber gloves sweep up broken glass and disinfectant with a
dustpan and brush, using forceps or tongs to handle larger pieces.
Put the broken glass and disinfectant into a disposable plastic
waste jar (large broken glass items can be placed into a special
grey box, marked in red 'broken glass'). The contaminated broken
glass must be autoclaved. Put the dustpan and brush into an
ordinary grey box of disinfectant. Wipe up residual disinfectant with
a disposable cloth or tissues and place the cloth/tissues into the
disposable plastic waste jar. Swab floor and gloves with fresh
disinfectant and wipe dry with cloth or paper towels. Place all used
cloths/towels into the disposable plastic waste jar before removing
Major breakages with widely scattered debris and large amounts of
aerosol formation require the evacuation of the area for about 30
mins to allow aerosols to settle. After 30 mins a competent person
wearing appropriate protective clothing (including a respirator if
necessary) may enter and deal with the spillage as set down above.
If an individual has been contaminated by spilt culture all items of
contaminated clothing must be removed and autoclaved, or soaked
in disinfectant. If appropriate the Occupational Health Service or
Student Health Service should be consulted as soon as possible.
Use of Human materials
University Policy on the Use of Human Specimens
Anyone using any human material for general teaching or research in the
Faculty must follow the he University of Surrey Code of Practice for Work
with Human Blood products and other tissue specimens. SOPs such as
those in the SCRS and the CIU may apply as well.
The main objective of this policy is to minimise the risk of infection by
blood borne viruses. Even when this policy is applied, a COSHH
assessment must also be carried out for all work involving the use of
human material.
Screened specimens shown to be free of both HBV and HIV may be
handled at containment level I.
Unscreened specimens from non-high-risk group subjects must be
handled at containment level 2.
Unscreened specimens from high risk groups, and specimens from
subjects with HBV and/or HIV infections, are classed in Hazard Group 3
and must not be brought into the Faculty without prior approval from the
Faculty Safety Committee and the University Safety Committee.
These specimens must only be handled at containment level 3 by trained
Blood collection
Blood specimens may only be taken by authorised persons who have
been trained, and have been approved by a medical practitioner
appointed for this purpose by the Faculty. Currently this is Dr Wright.
Genetic Modification and GMOs
Definition of a genetically-modified organism (GMO).
Genetic modification means altering the genetic material or transferring
genetic material by a way that does not occur naturally (by mating or
natural recombination or both). This definition applies to any organism
whether these are plants, animals or micro-organisms (e.g. bacteria,
viruses, fungi, protozoa, animal or plant cell cultures).
It is important to note that the use of GMOs which have been generated
elsewhere is subject to this regulation, even if there is no intention to
carry out any further genetic modification.
Anyone wishing to carry out any work with GM organisms must first
register with the Faculty Biological & Genetic Modification Safety
Advisor. This is a legal requirement.
No new work involving the use or generation of Genetically Modified
Organisms (GMOs) may be carried out by any person in the Faculty until
a risk assessment has been approved by the Faculty Safety Committee.
There is a separate document of guidance on GMOs and risk
assessment – please contact the Faculty Safety Adviser.
Remember, no genetically modified organism may be brought into the
Faculty without the prior approval of the Faculty Safety committee.
Safety Procedures Part 3
TA rev 2004
NC rev 2008