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BSL Lab

Hi I'm Jill, Chief Safety Officer with Vivid Learning Systems. I'm a former OSHA inspector and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards.

For this series we're at the University of Louisville in beautiful Kentucky to show you no matter where you work, safety is for everyone.

Researchers in scientists spend their days in labs but not all labs are the same. In fact there are four different levels called biological safety levels of labs.

Today we're at the University of Louisville at the dental school and I am with Rachel Carey. Rachel is a lab safety training specialist and Rachel we're standing in front of a level two is it a type of lab so can you tell us about these different levels, what are they? Sure, biosafety levels are a set of bio containment precautions that are put in place to isolate potentially dangerous biohazards from escaping the lab environment.

What is the process that you go through to determine these levels? Well we would start with a risk assessment typically the first thing to take into consideration when doing a risk assessment is the materials that you're going to be working with. There is fortunately a database of risk groups that are associated with various biohazardous materials that you would work with, and these risk groups have a 1 through 4 system similar to the biosafety level 1 through 4. They often correspond but not always.

So another part of your risk assessment is going to be to take into consideration how you're going to be manipulating the material. And so the determining the risk level of takes into effect two different two different aspects of the risk assessment rather so you have the level itself and then the risk group, and so they're not the same and more things to, like maybe the health of your employees.

Does anyone have a compromised immune system? So there are a lot of factors that can play into doing a thorough risk assessment and so what kind of work activity would happen in some of the different levels? Well biosafety level one lab for example would be appropriate for use with materials or biological agents that wouldn't necessarily pose a risk to human plant or animal health. Something like a non-pathogenic ecoli strain for example.

Okay now when you start to move up and work with materials that come with a higher potential risk, you want to work with them at higher biosafety levels. So a pathogenic ecoli strain for example, you'd want to work with at a biosafety level 2. - Okay. That also would apply for HIV or hepatitis B, these are agents that cause disease for which we have treatments and another important aspect of that is they're not transmitted via the air so by the inhalation route or through aerosolization. Okay. And so all of these things we take into consideration when determining what biosafety level to use for different agents that we work with. So it's really critical for employee safety to know which level you need for the work that you're going to be doing. Exactly in typically a lab that you work in is pre-designated and the most important things for the employees or any personnel at that point is to then to understand the practices that they need to put in place to safely work at that biosafety level.

Rachel what are the special personal protective equipment considerations with each of these levels? So for any of our lab work we ask that any personnel wear lab coat and gloves. At biosafety level 1 you would follow what's called standard microbiological practices which would include things like washing your hands before and after commencing work. Also no eating or drinking in lab and basic things like that.

When we move from a BSL 1 to a BSL 2 lab we start putting more safety measures in place such as an autoclave and we start providing more training to the employees. And as we escalate to level 3 we add in more PPE and more security and then finally the highest level BSL 4, which we do not do BSL 4 work at this institution but it would have the highest level of security and safety precaution. Is there special ventilation with the area itself as well as some of the levels not at biosafety level 1 & 2 but when we get into biosafety level 3 here at our organization. Now we do have air flow systems in place that create positive pressure within the laboratories and what that does is it prevents any materials that could be in the air from escaping the lab and that is one characteristic that we can see in the materials that are worked with it biosafety levels 3 & 4 is that they have the potential to be airborne. Okay and so you want to protect the entire space. Exactly and all of that air that is exhausted out of the room. Is it our organization at least passed through HEPA filter before exhausting.

So Rachel what are some do's and don'ts that you'd want to make sure people aren't doing or are doing in these different levels? Sure and a lot of that would be personal practices including PPE so it starts from a very basic level which would just be establishing good habits of washing your hands and cleaning up spills. And then at the higher level we would asked people to wear additional PPE for example our BSL 3 labs we have we have our personnel wear two pairs of gloves, we have our personnel wear respiratory protection devices, wear fluid impervious gowns and these all just become a part of your work routine when you work at different levels.

Good Rachel thank you so much for sharing this valuable information, your expertise in this area. So if you have labs in your workplace maybe you could start by asking when was the last time we did our risk assessment or how did we do our risk assessment to ensure that you have the right level for the type of work activity that you're doing in your work environment.

I hope you gained a safety skill today. If you know someone who needs this go ahead and pass it on.

Safety is everyone's business.