Biosafety Labs

What Are Biosafety Labs?

Scientists use biosafety labs to study contagious materials safely and effectively. These state-of-the-art labs are designed not only to protect researchers from contamination, but also to prevent microorganisms from entering the environment. Read the NIAID factsheet The Need for Biosafety Laboratory Facilities for further details.

There are four biosafety levels (BSLs) that define proper laboratory techniques, safety equipment, and design, depending on the types of agents being studied:

  1. BSL-1 labs are used to study agents not known to consistently cause disease in healthy adults. They follow basic safety procedures and require no special equipment or design features.
  2. BSL-2 labs are used to study moderate-risk agents that pose a danger if accidentally inhaled, swallowed, or exposed to the skin. Safety measures include the use of gloves and eyewear as well as handwashing sinks and waste decontamination facilities.
  3. BSL-3 labs are used to study agents that can be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infection. Researchers perform lab manipulations in a gas-tight enclosure. Other safety features include clothing decontamination, sealed windows, and specialized ventilation systems.
  4. BSL-4 labs are used to study agents that pose a high risk of life-threatening disease for which no vaccine or therapy is available. Lab personnel are required to wear full-body, air-supplied suits and to shower when exiting the facility. The labs incorporate all BSL-3 features and occupy safe, isolated zones within a larger building.

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