Biological Safety

Biological materials, including genetically modified organisms, can cause harm to human health and to the environment. There are various legal requirements for keeping and using biological materials to ensure they do not cause harm.

The purpose of this page is to bring together the relevant University Health and Safety Policies and Guidance and other supporting information on biological hazards and precautions for biological safety. 

Managing biological risks

Biological agents: Managing the risks -ACDP/HSE guidance

Biological agents: Managing the risks in laboratories and healthcare premises provides guidance on duties under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) as they relate to biological agents (micro-organisms/infection risks). The guidance covers work in all types of laboratories where biological agents are handled. This includes research, teaching, clinical, forensic, veterinary and environmental laboratories. It covers both deliberate use of biological agents and work with material that contains or could contain biological agents; and work with infected patients in human and animal healthcare settings. The guidance includes:

  • guidance on some general health and safety issues, such as health and safety management, that are applicable to all the relevant workplaces.
  • an overview of the assessment and management of risks from biological agents
  • more specific guidance on assessment and management of work involving infected patients in human and animal healthcare settings.
  • work in laboratories where biological agents are intentionally handled eg propagation and concentration.
  • work in laboratories where potentially infectious material is handled.

In addition to COSHH this guidance also provides advice on duties in other health and safety legislation as it relates to work with biological agents, including, The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations, The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations and The Carriage of Dangerous Goods (Classification, Packaging and Labelling) Regulations and The Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations.

University guidance on the management of biological risks

Approved list of biological agents

The Approved List of Biological Agents classifies biological agents (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and prions) into one of four hazard groups (HG) according to the following criteria:

  • Their ability to cause infection (in otherwise healthy individuals)
  • The severity of the disease that may result
  • The risk that infection will spread to the community
  • The availability of effective vaccines and treatment
The Approved List is an approved document that works in conjunction with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) to provide the regulatory framework controlling the risk from biological agents at work. Only those agents classified into Groups 2-4 are listed, however, simply because an agent is not listed this does not mean it is automatically a Hazard Group 1 (HG1) agent.
HSE has recently published the fifth edition of the Approved List of Biological Agents on behalf of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens. The changes to this edition include: 
  • Previously unlisted viruses have been classified and added to the list
  • The hazard group classification for existing agents has been reviewed and reclassified where appropriate
  • Further information has been included to clarify the classification of some agents
  • If a biological agent is also assigned a classification under the Specified Animal Pathogens Order (SAPO), this is now indicated on the list
  • Advice on available vaccines has been updated
  • Improvements to style and structure

Genetic Modification

University GM Risk Assessment Proforma 2014 (MS WORD 1.6MB)

Guidance on the Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2014

Guidance from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification 
The SACGM Compendium of Guidance is aimed at all those wishing to undertake activities with GMOs in containment. In particular, those with responsibility for assessing the risks associated with such work, and those who are required to appraise those risk assessments, are the intended users of this guidance. Following this guidance is not compulsory and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow this guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. Health and safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law and may refer to this guidance as illustrating good practice.

Other tissues, cells and body fluids

Biological safety restricted information