Biological safety

Biological Safety

The safety information on this page relates to biology or living organisms.


Biological Waste 

People working in a labLaboratory personnel and principal investigators (PIs) are responsible for identifying, packaging and properly decontaminating biohazardous waste, including all recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA waste, before disposal.

  • EH&S Bothell can help guide you through training, inventory and disposal of your waste!
  • For a list of materials defined as biohazardous waste, shipping and transporting and decontaminating waste, please refer to the EH&S Biohazardous Waste Site.

Biological Research Safety 

The Biological Use Authorization (BUA) process grants approval for work with biohazards. If your research involves biohazards, it must be reviewed and approved Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) to ensure safe handling of biohazardous material. Please see the Biological webpage for more information. ​


Biological Safety Cabinets

Biological safety cabinets (BSCs) are used to protect personnel, products and the environment from exposure to biohazards and cross contamination during routine procedures. When choosing a biological safety cabinet for your work space, EH&S can help you select the class of cabinet that will provide the best protection.

  •  Contact EH&S if you plan to purchase or relocate a biological safety cabinet, or bring a unit to the UW from another university. EH&S can help you select the appropriate cabinet for your research, evaluate the space you are considering, and determine if necessary ventilation and utilities are available.

Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) Program

The purpose of the UW Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) Program is to protect employees from exposure to human blood and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). Bloodborne pathogens (BBP) are pathogenic microorganisms that are present in human blood; these and other potentially infectious materials (OPIM) can cause disease. Examples include hepatitis B (HBV), hepatitis C (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Principal investigators (PIs) and supervisors are responsible for assessing activities in the workplace to determine if employees have a potential for exposure. The UW BBP Program includes:

  • Developing and maintaining a BBP Exposure Control Plan
  • Offering the hepatitis B vaccine
  • Training

PIs/supervisors must develop a site-specific BBP Exposure Control Plan as a supplement to the UW’s core BBP Exposure Control Plan in the UW Biosafety Manual. The site-specific plan identifies who is covered by the plan, personal protective equipment (PPE) for each task, decontamination procedures and first aid/exposure response procedures.


Sharps & laboratory glass 

DNA ModelSharps waste is regulated by state law and requires special handling. Sharps are instruments used to puncture or cut body parts. In a waste container, sharps can cause cuts, punctures and potential exposure to waste handlers. Laboratory glass and plastic waste are not technically sharps but can puncture regular waste bags and injure waste handlers. The rules for packaging and disposal of laboratory glass and plastic waste differ depending on whether or not the items are contaminated. To learn more about working safely with sharps, see Sharps Safety in Research.

Sharps waste is regulated by state law and must be separated from the regular waste stream. The term “sharps” refers to items used to puncture or cut body parts. In a waste container, sharps can cause punctures, cuts and potential exposure to waste handlers. Therefore, all sharps waste must be placed in sharps containers and decontaminated prior to disposal.

The following are always sharps waste:

  • Needles, including syringes with needles and  IV tubing with needles attached
  • Syringes without needles when removed from their original sterile packaging
  • Lancets
  • Scalpel blades​

The following are defined as sharps waste if they are contaminated with a biohazard (including recombinant or synthetic DNA/RNA):

  • Broken glass
  • Razor blades
  • Fragile glass items like tubes, vials, ampoules and Pasteur pipettes
  • Glass slides and cover slips

What you can do to stay safe

  • Learn to identify sharps waste vs. laboratory glass and plastic waste.
  • Keep sharps waste separate from all other waste streams.
  • Sharps waste and biohazardous lab glass and plastic waste must be decontaminated prior to disposal.
  • Take the required and recommended safety training courses.
  • Learn more about working safely with sharps

*Treatment and disposal of sharps waste, laboratory glass and plastic waste varies based on access to autoclaves and location.


Reference Links