Safety Services


Biological Safety

Biological Safety refers to the precautions required for safe work with biological agents.

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Biological agents

Biological agents include microbes, cell cultures, human and animal tissues. They may cause infection, toxicity or other harm to human health or cause harm to the environment. 

Types of biological agents

  • Wild-type Organisms Wild-type refers to unmodified or naturally occurring biological agents.

  • Genetically Modified (GM) Organisms GM is the modification of DNA or RNA of an organism using a method that does not occur in nature. Work with GM organisms is subject to specific requirements.
    > Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) safety

Risk assessment

To prevent harm Principal Investigators (PI's), supervisors or line managers must:

  • Plan and control work with biological agents.
  • This includes documenting hazards and control measures in a risk assessment.
  • Consider individuals who may be at increased risk as part of the risk assessment process.
  • Approve risk assessments before work begins.
  • Review risk assessments on a regular basis to reflect any changes in activity.

> More on risk assessment 

Information, instruction, training and supervision

Those working with biological agents must be competent to do so. To achieve this, PI's, supervisors or line managers must:

  • Provide information on the risks of work and precautions to follow.
  • Provide appropriate supervision.
  • Check compliance with local procedures and rules.
  • Assess the ability to work safely and arrange for any necessary training.

> More on safety training

Hazard groups

Find out the hazard group of the organism you plan to work with. This is the main way to establish the hazards of your work and decide what risk controls are required. There are four hazard groups, 1 to 4, with 1 as the safest and 4 the most hazardous. One way to find out the hazard group is to check the list of common micro-organisms published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

> Common micro-organisms list (HSE) pdf

Containment levels

Containment describes the risk control measures required to prevent exposure to biological agents. There are four levels of containment defined in the regulations. The containment level should correspond to the hazard groups mentioned above. For example, hazard group 2 organisms must be handled at containment level 2. A summary of the requirements at each containment level is in the document below.

> Containment level requirement summaries (pdf)


Dispose of hazardous waste following approved waste disposal routes. Further guidance on waste is available from UCL Estates.

> UCL hazardous waste disposal


Biological agents must be transported safely and following regulatory requirements.

> Further guidance on transporting infectious and biological material

Specialist advice

If you need advice on any topics not covered above, please email biochem@ucl.ac.uk.

Example topics:

  • Specified animal pathogens.
  • Controlled pathogens and toxins.
  • Work with animals, including arthropods.

Last updated: Friday, August 20, 2021