Policy ForumBiosafety and Biosecurity

Risk-based reboot for global lab biosafety

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Science  20 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6386, pp. 260-262
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar2231

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Laboratory biosafety is fundamental to controlling exposure to pathogens, protecting the laboratory workforce and the wider community against inadvertent exposures or releases. Since 1983, the World Health Organization (WHO) Laboratory Biosafety Manual (LBM) has encouraged countries to implement basic concepts in biological safety and to develop national codes of practice for the safe handling of pathogenic microorganisms in laboratories. But as technologies continue to evolve, and with them potential threats and benefits to laboratory safety, so too must approaches to biosafety. With revision toward the fourth edition of the LBM under way, we propose a shift in focus to a risk-based, technology-neutral, and cost-effective approach to biosafety, making sure that laboratory facilities, safety equipment, and work practices are locally relevant, proportionate, and sustainable. This will allow more flexibility in laboratory design, reduce focus on pathogen risk groups and biosafety levels as the de facto starting point of laboratory considerations, and place more emphasis on human factors and worker training. Improved sustainability of laboratory operations through lower construction and operating costs, particularly in resource-limited settings, may pave the way for equitable access to clinical and public health laboratory tests and biomedical research opportunities, without compromising safety.