Laboratories have been responsible for some of the most important discoveries in human history. Today they play a vital role in nearly every part of our lives. Biotechnology labs in particular are on the front lines of studying areas relating to human biological health and the health of our environment.
Modern advances and research in biotechnology have applications over a wide range of areas, such as microbiology, medicine, the food industry, agriculture, nanotechnology, and several others. This research will often require working with pathogenic agents, such as virus, parasites, fungi, bacteria, or genetic modified organisms. Understandably, these activities have generated great concern because of their potential biological risk because of their unpredictable behavior. The risks extend to humans, other animals and the environment.
With these conditions resent, biotechnology laboratories require biosafety measures designed to protect their staff, the population, and the environment, all of whom can be exposed to the hazardous organisms and materials with which they work.
How to Safeguard
Continuous training of staff is a must. All staff who interact in any way with the lab must be educated on the proper handling of hazardous biological agents. This includes the epidemiology, pathogenicity, and human susceptibility of all potentially dangerous biological materials used in the lab. There are already established international procedures for the proper working techniques, containment procedures and behaviors that ensure safety in the lab.
Additionally the lab must have on hand and in necessary quantities the protective equipment, containment devices, and protective barriers capable of helping to avoid infections and transfer of any pathogens. This equipment is also standardized and internationally available.
A biosafety hood or bio hood is an enclosed, ventilated workspace within the laboratory which allows for safely working with materials contaminated with (or potentially contaminated with) pathogens. Pathogens in the lab are given a biosafety level and must be handled in specific ways based on their biosafety level. There are several different bio hoods that are differentiated by the degree of bio-containment required.
Bio hoods serve as a means to protect the laboratory worker and the surrounding environment from pathogens. Air is pulled into a set of vents at the top of the nearly enclosed unit where it goes through a cleaning protocol involving HEPA filtration. Before any air exits the bio hood, all harmful bacteria and viruses are removed. Because they play such an important role in the lab, bio hoods must be properly maintained and their filters changed on schedule. Each unit comes with monitoring equipment that lets workers know if the unit is not functioning properly and when the filter is in line for replacement.