Health and Safety Directorate

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Scope: QMUL researchers and students who work in life sciences laboratories and related areas can be at risk from exposure to hazardous biological agents (also termed ‘hazardous micro-organisms’, ‘pathogens’, ‘infectious agents’). These can be viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, or novel infectious agents such as abnormal prions. Some work with hazardous biological agents will be intentional (e.g. by culturing a pathogen) and other work non-intentional, e.g. working with human, animal or environmental material (e.g. blood, cells, tissue samples, clinical samples, soil or water samples), which is likely to contain hazardous micro-organisms although the micro-organisms are not intentionally being grown (termed in these cases as ‘adventitious agents’).

Biosafety: In addition to the general duties under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, there are provisions which apply to laboratory and related work with hazardous biological agents. The choice of biosafety control measures in laboratories (termed ‘Containment Level’ measures) is largely based on the ‘Hazard Group’ of the biological agent that is being used (or that may be present). These measures also translate to ‘infection control requirements’ applicable in clinical areas.

Biological agents are classified into one of four Hazard Groups from 1 (the lowest, e.g. an attenuated E.coli strains such as K12 derivatives) to 4 (highest, e.g. Ebola, pandemic influenza) based on their ability to infect healthy adults. The classification is set out in the Approved List of Biological Agents with a few hundred known ‘wild type’ pathogens listed. Absence of a listing for an agent does not imply the lowest hazard group, and a risk assessment based on the key principles of classification will need to be completed to identify the classification.

GMOs: Hazardous biological agents which are genetically modified are covered under specific legislation, and a specific QMUL policy and procedures apply. Please see the GMO topic page for information.

Other considerations: Transport, import, export of hazardous biological agents, GMOs, biological / environmental samples and also certain animal products / by products have specified regulations and permits. Please see Dangerous Goods Transport and Animal By-Products topic pages for further information.

Key duties of Research Investigators / Head of School or Institute for work with biological agents at QMUL:

  1. Carrying out an assessment (using Bio-COSHH template below) of the risks to human health (and where applicable, the environment) before any work with biological agents begins. This will include the identification of the hazard group and containment level.
  2. Notifying the Biological and GM Safety Committee (BGMSC) of ‘higher risk’ work and gaining approval. See the 'Biological Agents Project Summary' document below for criteria of higher risk work, and arrangements for notification. The Biological Safety Adviser will facilitate regulatory notifications at this point for biosafety and biosecurity.
  3. Ensuring effective application of the required containment measures, including those for decontamination and waste disposal. Inspections using these checklists should be conducted.  
  4. Ensuring health surveillance is in place for workers, as assessed.
  5. Notifying significant changes in higher risk work to the BGMSC.
  6. Report accidents and incidents relating to work with biological agents via the accident and incident reporting system
  7. Ensuring staff, students and others involved in the work receive the appropriate training.

QMUL Documents and web links:

Decontamination and Sterilisation
Laboratory Hazardous Waste

List of Training Courses provided by HSD: – for details and bookings visit this webpage
Working Safely with Biological Hazards (HS020)
Containment Level 3 - Principles & Practices (HS019)
GM & Biosafety for Clinical Trials Staff (HS025)
GM Risk Assessment and Notification (HS029)
Bio Hazards and GM Agents REFRESHER (HS030)
Safe Management of Lab Hazardous Waste (HS024)
Selection of Laboratory PPE (HS028)
Decontamination and Sterilisation (HS026)

Key Legislation
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 (as amended)
Specified Animal Pathogen Order (SAPO) 2008
Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2014
The Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009
Animal By Products (Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013
Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act (ATCSA) 2001
HSE Biosafety Website


Key QMUL Contacts:
QMUL Biological Safety Adviser: Dr Mark Ariyanayagam ext 8378 (Mon – Thurs), ext 2079 (most Fridays).

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