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Biocontainment is a component of biorisk management. The overall objective of biocontainment is to confine an infectious organism or toxin, thereby reducing the potential for exposure to laboratory workers or persons outside the laboratory, and the likelihood of accidental release to the environment. Physical containment is achieved through the use of laboratory practices, containment equipment, personal protective equipment, and laboratory and facility design.

The Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel has developed a Best Practices Checklist​ to guide Federal departments and agencies through a comprehensive set of questions that should be considered while planning and building a high-containment laboratory. Other institutions may also use this checklist as a way to ensure that they are aware of all possible elements of biocontainment.

Safety Equipment (Primary Barriers and Personal Protective Equipment)

The primary means of physical containment include laboratory practices and the use of containment equipment within the laboratory. Safety equipment includes biosafety cabinets (BSCs), personal protective equipment (PPE), enclosed containers, and other controls designed to remove or minimize exposures to hazardous biological materials.

Personal protective equipment is specialized clothing or equipment worn by laboratory workers to provide another layer of protection while handling infectious agents or toxins. PPE may include masks, gloves, safety glasses, lab coats or gowns, and other protective garments. The purpose of PPE is to prevent exposure of laboratory workers to infectious agents or toxins while in the laboratory. PPE is used in all biological laboratories and at all biosafety levels.

Biosafety Cabinets are primary containment devices designed to contain infectious agents or toxins. They are routinely used for a variety of applications such as cell and tissue culture, bacterial and viral work, and clinical sample manipulations. Biosafety cabinets (BSCs) are designed to protect laboratory workers and the environment from potential exposure to infectious agents or toxins through the use of directional air flow and High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. BSCs can also protect a biological product from contamination.

It is very important to recognize that chemical fume hoods and biosafety cabinets are engineered to perform different functions, use different methods to protect laboratory workers, and are not interchangeable. Chemical fume hoods do not provide protection from infectious agents or toxins.

Facility Design and Construction (Secondary Barriers)

The facility design and physical features of a biological laboratory provide primary barrier protection from the accidental release of infectious agents or toxins outside the laboratory or to the environment. The design and construction of the facility contribute to the laboratory workers’ protection. It also provides a barrier to protect people, animals, and the environment outside of the laboratory from infectious agents or toxins that may be accidentally released from the laboratory. Laboratory design is one element of “engineering controls” used in laboratory biosafety.

Small and large animal laboratories require additional design considerations to allow for feeding, housing, handling, and containment. These laboratories are defined by Animal Biosafety Levels (ABSL) or Biosafety Level – Agriculture (BSL-Ag).

The use of specific containment equipment and procedures is determined through risk assessments​conducted at individual institutions. Important differences exist between risk assessment criteria for public health and worker protection, and requirements for animal, wildlife, plant, and agricultural containment.

This page last reviewed: September 25, 2019