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Biosafety Equipment 

Biosafety equipment consists of both the materials and personal protective equipment that keeps laboratory personnel safe. Biosafety cabinets are a very important component of laboratory equipment that allows laboratory workers to safely handle infectious agent or toxins. Biosafety cabinets can be divided into several classes. Biosafety cabinets remain one of the key pieces of equipment to protect workers and the environment from infectious agents or toxins in biological laboratories.

Personal Protective Equipment is another very important component of biosafety equipment in the laboratory. Personal protective equipment includes gloves, masks, lab coats, and other wearable equipment (such as safety glasses and respirators) that protect laboratory workers from infectious agents and toxins in the laboratory.

Biosafety equipment can also include equipment used in building design to prevent the release of infectious agents and toxins. Examples of protective features in buildings include double doors and negative air pressure rooms. Air filtration and waste management systems can also be very important for biosafety. For more information on these types of equipment, please see biosafety laboratory design.

Needles, centrifuges, glass instruments, and other tools can all pose unique hazards to laboratory workers. Over time, the design of this equipment has changed to improve safety and reduce risks. Biosafety innovation is an ongoing process of hazard identification and design changes to address new or newly recognized risks.

Safety advances in biological laboratories have been made in the design of new equipment and in standard laboratory practices​ based on new information about biological hazards. The proper use of equipment, adherence to standard operating procedures, and good practices in the laboratory are all crucial to keeping laboratory workers, the community, and the environment safe.

A few examples of the ways safety equipment can reduce a laboratory worker’s risk of exposure are listed below and show how important well-designed equipment in laboratories is for ensuring safety.


Pipettes

In the past, researchers would use “mouth pipetting” to suction liquid into a glass tube. This practice was a major source of laboratory acquired infections. The invention of bulb and mechanical pipettes was a major advance in preventing laboratory acquired infections.

Mouth pipetting poses a risk of exposure to the scientist. Now, scientists use different types of pipettes and aerosol barrier pipette tips that protect scientists from exposure to infectious agents or toxins or laboratory chemicals.


Needles & Other Sharps

Items present in a laboratory that could puncture the gloves and skin of a laboratory worker are a potential risk. Even in situations where there is no risk of infection, scalpels or needles can cause serious injuries to workers. In laboratories, needles, blades, and broken glass are referred to as “sharps” for disposal purposes. Over time, both technology and systems have changed to minimize the danger of handling sharps in the laboratory.

In many laboratories, work with needles is common, particularly if the laboratory is handling animals. There is a significant risk of accidental exposure to an infectious agent or toxin or chemical material if a worker sticks themselves with a used needle. As a safety precaution, some laboratories now use “retracting needles”. The needle retracts into the barrel following injection to protect healthcare workers and others from accidental needlestick injuries.

Clearly labeled containers are available for disposal of sharps, including needles, reducing the risk of accidental exposure or improper waste disposal. 

Reducing the amount of glass present so there are fewer materials that could break and puncture gloves or injure a worker can minimize risk. Pipettes, containers, and other tools are now frequently made of temperature -resistant plastic. This means that many items are single-use to avoid any possibility of contamination or improper cleaning.

This page last reviewed: November 20, 2015

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