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Biosafety Cabinets

Biosafety cabinets, or biological safety cabinets (BSCs), are designed to provide a clean work environment and protection for employees who work with biological hazards. 

At a minimum, biosafety cabinets shall be used for BSL-2 work unless the IBC permits benchtop work, and when the need arises for manipulation of pathogens that are likely to create aerosols (such as vortexing open tubes, pipetting, opening caps after centrifuging, sonicating, aspirating with a syringe, etc.). Use BSCs for all manipulation of airborne transmitted pathogens.

Biological Safety Cabinets: How They Work to Protect You

BSCs use room air which enters the grill at the front edge of the BSC work surface, is mixed with recirculating air stream and passes through a HEPA filter downward toward the work surface, creating a contamination-free zone.

Cabinets should be installed away from doors and heavy foot traffic to minimize air currents that may impair the protective air sheet in the front of the cabinet. Allow sufficient space around the cabinet to ensure appropriate airflow.

Improper use of a biological safety cabinet can result in contaminated cultures and expose workers and the environment to biological hazards.

Working in a Biosafety Cabinet

Allow the BSC to run for a few minutes before you introduce your research materials into the cabinet and start your experiment.

Wipe down surfaces with 10% bleach, followed by a water and a 70 percent ethanol wipe. You may use a disinfectant other than bleach, as long as the disinfectant is appropriate to inactivate the agent and you adhere to the contact time associated with efficient inactivation of the agent (check disinfectant labels).

If using the internal UV lamp as part of the sterilization process, be sure to wipe down the lamp with 70 percent ethanol once a week. Please be aware that UV lamps may decrease in power over time, and should therefore not be used as sole decontamination approach.

Do not work with more than one person in a BSC, regardless of its size. 

The work station within the BSC should be set up such that work is conducted from "clean to dirty." That means that stock solutions, clean serological pipets, etc., should be on one side of the cabinet, your working area in the middle and used media, serological pipets, etc. collected on the side opposite the clean side.

Before introducing your research materials and starting work, allow 5 minutes of operation to purge the system; check the flow alarm system and visual alarm function (if so equipped).

Do not block the front, side or back grills to ensure appropriate airflow within the cabinet (e.g., by using hand rests and only placing items needed for the experiment into the BSC).

Aspiration of culture media with a vacuum should be set up as follows:

This setup can be right to left or left to right, but on the "dirty" side of the biological safety cabinet.

  • Add bleach to primary vacuum flask (A in Figure above) to equal 10 percent of maximum collection volume. Maximum collection volume should be no more than 2/3 full.
  • Label flask "Tissue culture media decontaminated with bleach 9:1."
  • Aspirate tissue culture volume to the chlorine bleach in the flask to make a final concentration of 10 percent bleach (nine parts TC media:one part bleach).
  • After reaching maximum volume, allow a minimum of 20 minutes contact time. Empty flask to laboratory sink followed by copious amounts of water. Flasks should be emptied at the end of each workday.
  • Vacuum (D in figure above) is turned off at the end of the day.
  • Liquid trap (B) and hydrophobic HEPA filter (C) are placed in line before vacuum source. HEPA filters should be replaced annually or sooner, if contaminated.

No Bunsen burner or other open flame use is allowed in a BSC. If you need to sterlize items in a BSC, please contact EHS for alternatives to Bunsen burners.


Biosafety Cabinet Certification

Biosafety cabinets require certification upon installation and annually thereafter certification, if moved to a new location and repaired to ensure proper function.

Certification of BSCs is not conducted by EH&S, but the biosafety officer participates in the regulation of BSC use based on certification status. PIs are responsible for having their BSCs certified after initial installation, followed by yearly certification, when the cabinet is relocated, and following repairs. Vendors like Technical Safety Services (TSS) provide certification and decontamination services.

Note that work shall not be conducted in BSCs that are out of date or have expired certification.


Removal of Biosafety Cabinets from the Laboratory

BSCs must be appropriately decontaminated before they are green-tagged for removal from the lab space for relocation, surplus or disposal to comply with Cal/OSHA regulations and the BMBL. Contact EHS Biosafety for the decontamination requirements that apply to your cabinet.