National Biosafety Month 2022: Substitute with safer alternatives


During National Biosafety Month in October, EH&S is encouraging labs working with biohazards to identify hazards that could be substituted with a safer alternative to reduce the potential for harm while performing the same function.

Examples of safer alternatives include: 

Hierarchy of controls

  • Replace needles and razor blades: Consider alternatives to sharps for in vitro procedures. Tools such as blunt needles and fine tip micropipette tips can replace needles. Plastic gel cutters are a safe alternative to razor blades for cutting gels. Use a boxcutter instead of a razor blade to open boxes. The Sharps Safety webpage has more information on sharps substitutions. 
  • Replace lab glass with plastic: Using plastic instead of glass can greatly reduce potential injuries and exposures from broken glass. Try polystyrene Pasteur pipettes in single sterile packaging instead of fragile glass Pasteur pipettes. Choose plastic containers over glass when possible.
  • Use a less hazardous gene delivery method: If using first or second generation lentiviral vectors for gene delivery, consider using a third generation lentiviral vector instead. Older generations of lentiviral vectors may generate replicating and pathogenic virus. Third generation lentiviral vectors employ a split gene packaging strategy requiring multiple recombination events that essentially render it incapable of generating replication competent virus.
  • Use a less pathogenic surrogate organism: Using less pathogenic species or strains of organisms may lower the biosafety level and health risk if exposed. For example, use a bacteriophage as a surrogate for a virus or an avirulent or attenuated strains for certain bacteria (e.g., using Mycobacterium tuberculosis strain H37Ra instead of H37Rv).
  • Switch to safer chemicals: Chemicals commonly used in biological research have less hazardous options, such as substituting staining alternatives SYBR Safe, GelRed or EZ-Vision dyes for ethidium bromide, a known mutagen. Consider replacing hazardous protein purification compounds with kits such as Pefabloc SC.

When evaluating potential substitutes, remember that an effective substitute is one that can reduce the potential for harmful effects and does not introduce new risks.

Substitution is one method of mitigating hazards that comprises the Hierarchy of Controls, an approach for evaluating how to reduce or limit the risks of an adverse outcome when working with a hazard, featured in the Laboratory Risk Assessment Tool (Lab R.A.T). Substituting hazards will not eliminate the need for other controls, such as administrative controls and proper use of PPE. Employing all the different risk mitigation strategies in the Hierarchy of Controls will create a safer work environment.

If your lab has identified creative ways to substitute hazardous agents, instruments, or activities with safer alternatives, we would love to hear your story and share it with other labs!

For any questions or comments, please contact the EH&S Biosafety Team at or 206-221-7770.