Biological Safety

Containment Levels

Biosafety Levels (BSLs) describe the measures employed to protect researchers, the environment, and the public from unintentional release of biohazardous materials. AU laboratories utilize up to BSL-2 containment. Appendix G of the NIH Guidelines provides a detailed description of the practices, equipment, and facilities involved with each containment level.

Sharps Safety

Sharps are items with sharp edges that can cause injury when handled. Often, the sharps used in research laboratories are contaminated with biohazardous materials. Common laboratory sharps are needles, scalpels, glass pipettes, and razor blades. Follow these principles to work safely with sharps:

  • Avoid recapping needles. If a needle must be recapped, use a one-handed recapping technique.
  • Immediately dispose of used sharps contaminated with biohazardous materials in a hard-sided sharps container.
  • Only fill sharps containers about 3/4 full.
  • Consider using protective devices such as retractable needles and puncture-resistant gloves.

Note: Sharp items that are NOT contaminated with biohazardous materials can be disposed of in a glass waste container or an empty hard-sided container with a lid, such as an empty plastic chemical container.

Biological Waste

There are several appropriate methods for treating and / or disposing of biohazardous waste. You can find more information about specific waste streams on the Hazardous Waste page.


Autoclaves use steam and pressure to sterilize waste. Refer to the Autoclave section of the Laboratory Equipment page for more information.

Collection for incineration

Biohazardous waste can be collected in biohazard boxes lined with red biohazard bags. When almost full, contact EH&S for pickup.

Chemical treatment

Solid and liquid wastes may be treated with a fresh preparation of 20% bleach for at least 30 minutes. Other chemical treatment methods may be acceptable, depending on the organism of interest.


The biohazard label should be displayed on any areas where biologically hazardous materials are used or stored. This includes refrigerators, freezers, centrifuges, incubators, BSCs, and bench areas. In addition, the biohazard symbol will be included on the laboratory door sign.

Biohazard Symbol

Biological Safety Cabinets (BSCs)

BSCs provide protection to the user, the samples, and the environment. Please refer to the BSC section of this website for detailed information about their use. We also provide online training about BSCs.

Bloodborne Pathogens (BBPs)

BBPs are a special type of biohazardous material that may be present in human blood, tissues, cells, or other potentially infectious materials (OPIM). These pathogens include HIV, Hepatitis B Virus, and Hepatitis C Virus.

American University enrolls employees and students who work with human materials in the Bloodborne Pathogens program. In the research laboratory, these materials can include human blood or tissue samples, human cell lines, other human bodily fluids, and materials from animals infected with human materials. You may find details about this program on the Bloodborne Pathogens page.


All personnel working in laboratories that use biohazardous materials must complete online Biological Safety training courses before they may be granted access to the laboratory space. These courses comprise Introduction to Biosafety, Biological Safety Cabinets, and Sharps Safety. Some personnel also need to complete Bloodborne Pathogens training. See the Safety Training page for more information.

Select Agents and Biologically Active Materials

Before regulated biologically active materials or select agents can be brought onto campus, they may need university pre-approval or may need to be reported to an appropriate regulatory agency.

Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)

Most work with recombinant DNA (rDNA) must be performed under the oversight of the Institutional Biosafety Committee. Guidance is provided in the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant or Synthetic Nucleic Acid Molecules. Contact the Office of Research Integrity for more information.

For more information, please contact:

Heather McClary, EdD, MPH, CPH, ECoP
Associate Director
Environmental Health and Safety
Phone: 202-885-2007