Biological Safety

Biosafety Stewardship

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is urging grantees to participate in National Biosafety Stewardship Month in October. UW strongly encourages its laboratories to participate now and throughout the year. To learn more about promoting biosafety, see the Biosafety Stewardship webpage.

Biological Use Authorization

Biological Use Authorization (BUA) is required for work involving biohazards, including recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA. See the Biological Use Authorization webpage for the application and information regarding the approval process.

Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)

The Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) reviews, approves, and oversees research involving the use of recombinant or synthetic nucleic acids and other biohazardous agents. See the Institutional Biosafety Committee webpage for current agenda and meeting minutes.

Select Agents, Toxins, and Dual Use Research of Concern

Researchers working with select agents and toxins at UW are required to enroll in the UW Select Agent Program. See the Select Agent Program webpage for information about the program, requirements, and due diligence for select toxins. If research involves select agents or toxins, see the Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC) webpage for additional information.


Equipment Operation, Inspection, and Certification

Program Management and Development


Risk Assessment and Hazard Identification

The risk assessment, biohazard containment and biosafety practices follow the regulations, standards and guidelines prescribed by the below. Local regulations and facility constraints may necessitate some modifications.

Risk Groups

Microorganisms are classified into Risk Groups according to degree of risk in terms of infectivity, pathogenicity, and the availability of preventive measures and effective treatments for the disease following an exposure. The risk associated with an agent may be indirect, such as potential damage to the environment. Risk Groups for recombinant, biohazardous agents are as prescribed by the NIH Guidelines and national and international organizations. The table below provides descriptions of the Risk Groups and links to the appropriate sections of the NIH Guidelines. It is important to note that Risk Groups correlate with, but do not always equate to, biological safety levels. See the ABSA Risk Group Database for help in determining the risk group of an agent.

Risk Group (RG)
Risk Group 1 (RG1)Agents that are not associated with disease in healthy adult humans
Risk Group 2 (RG2)Agents that are associated with human disease which is rarely serious and for which preventive or therapeutic interventions are often available
Risk Group 3 (RG3)Agents that are associated with serious or lethal human disease for which preventive or therapeutic interventions may be available (high individual risk but low community risk)
Risk Group 4 (RG4)Agents that are likely to cause serious or lethal human disease for which preventive or therapeutic interventions are not usually available (high individual risk and high community risk)

Biological Safety Levels

Biological Safety Level (BSL) classification refers to containment engineering and safety practices and is correlated with Risk Groups (i.e., BSL-1 for handling low risk biological agents through BSL-4 for handling extreme risk agents). The table below provides the biosafety levels, their definitions, and some examples.

Biosafety Level (BSL)
  • Well-characterized agents that pose minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment
  • Well-characterized agents that do not consistently cause disease in immunocompetent adult humans
E. coli K12 cloning strains, Bacillus subtilis, canine hepatitis virus
  • Well-characterized agents that pose a moderate potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment
  • Well-characterized agents for which preventive and therapeutic interventions are often available
Salmonella typhimurium, Yersinia enterocolitica, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, many viral vectors for gene transfer (e.g., adenovirus, lentivirus), human source material (including cell lines)
BSL-2 with BSL-3 practices
As determined by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)
Lentiviral vectors with oncogenes
  • Indigenous or exotic agents that may cause serious or lethal human disease through inhalation
  • Indigenous or exotic agents for which preventive and therapeutic interventions may be available
Yersinia pestis, Burkholderia mallei, Francisella tularensis
No BSL-4 work done at UW
Marburg virus, Ebola virus

See the UW Biosafety Manual for more information about Risk Groups, Biological Safety Levels, and the risk assessment.

Biosafety Laboratory Visits

EH&S biosafety officers conduct laboratory visits for labs working with biohazards as part of the Biological Use Authorization. The goal of biosafety lab visits is to ensure lab practices and facilities are in compliance with relevant regulations, to provide guidance on biosafety issues, to verify required trainings have been completed, and to facilitate communication between researchers and EH&S. Inspection checklists are available to assist you in preparing for your biosafety lab visit:

Biosafety Work Practices and Procedures

Decontamination, Disinfection, and Sterilization

Decontamination eliminates or reduces microbial contamination to a safe level. Decontamination procedures include disinfection which kills pathogenic microorganisms but not necessarily their spores, and sterilization which kills all microorganisms. See the following for more information: