Bio-Containment Labs Urged to Report Accidents, Train Personnel

How can safety be improved at biocontainment labs, where researchers work with dangerous pathogens and toxins? A new report from an interagency task force that has been studying the topic since 2007 recommends mandatory biosafety training for professionals working at such labs, a system of credentialing lab personnel, and oversight of biosafety procedures by a single federal entity. Currently, institutions are expected to adhere to biosafety guidelines laid down by the National Institutes of Health; the report calls for converting them into rules. (Many institutions, such at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, already require all of their biocontainment lab employees to undergo training.)

The task force also recommends a voluntary system of reporting in which institutions are encouraged to report all accidents in biocontainment labs without fear of punishment or public disclosure of identity. Under current rules, labs must report cases of human exposure to pathogens to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, but lab managers rarely report accidents that are less serious—such as a vial leaking onto a lab bench. The report says analyzing such incidents can help provide important safety lessons that could then be applied to all labs.