Working in biological containment facilities or with infectious agents is serious business. The research performed usually entails indigenous or exotic agents with the potential for severe or lethal disease. Two examples of infectious pathogens that have received a lot of attention recently are yellow fever and West Nile virus. Obviously, if released they have the potential to cause extensive harm or damage to people, the environment, and the community. Needless to say, we do not want these agents to get out into the community nor do we want our employees who are working with these agents to be in harm’s way. The foundation for safe operation of any biological containment facility is an effective exposure control plan. This article discusses the basic elements of a comprehensive exposure control plan, what each element should contain, and tips on successful implementation.
The exposure control plan is basically a biosafety manual written to address the unique conditions of the current research, facility design, and personnel operations necessary to carry out the laboratory’s mission. One excellent free reference is the CDC’s Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories,1 which contains comprehensive information on biological risk assessment and summary statements for many common infectious agents.
An effective exposure control plan is comprehensive, clearly written in concise terms, well organized, distributed to all people who must enter or work in the containment lab, and, most important, read and understood by all. A good comprehensive exposure control plan will contain at least seven main sections. These are general laboratory function, specific facility design and operational procedures, special laboratory safety equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE), laboratory research practices and procedures, health and medical monitoring requirements, emergency procedures, and employee training. Let’s take a look at each of these chapters to see what they should include.
General laboratory function
The opening section will provide a clear organization of personnel and assign responsibilities for all who work in and support the containment laboratory. How access is controlled is of primary importance. The laboratory director has ultimate responsibility. Access should be restricted to only certified people who are absolutely necessary. Certified means they understand the potential biohazard, have demonstrated proficiency in the laboratory’s procedures, and have complied with the health and medical entry requirements. Proper entry and exiting procedures for staff, visitors, and maintenance/ custodial workers are clearly established in this section as well. Finally, procedures for identifying, reporting, and correcting problems or violations of protocol are detailed.