A cell culture laboratory poses risks associated with handling and manipulating cells and tissues as well as toxic, corrosive or mutagenic solvents and reagents. Therefore, adherence to standard microbiological practices and techniques is of paramount importance to mitigate risks and ensure safety at all times.
There are four ascending levels of biosafety containment, referred to as biosafety levels (BSL). Each level has standard microbiological practices, safety equipment and facility safeguards to be implemented when dealing with hazardous biomaterials and agents. BSL-1 is the basic level of protection common to most research and clinical laboratories where the agents used are not known to cause disease in normal, healthy humans. BSL-2 is appropriate for moderate-risk agents known to cause human disease of varying severity by ingestion or through percutaneous or mucous membrane exposure. Most cell culture labs should be at least BSL-2, but the exact requirements depend upon the biomaterials used and the type of work conducted. BSL-3 is required for agents that pose a serious and potentially lethal infection and BSL-4, the highest containment level, is required for laboratories working with infectious agents that pose a high individual risk of life-threatening disease.
The following is a list of basic safety recommendations for a cell culture laboratory. The list is by no means complete and should be supplemented with the appropriate biosafety level recommendations.
- Always wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) including laboratory coat, gloves and safety goggles.
- Always read the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for any substance you are working with to ensure appropriate safety precautions when handling.
- Decontaminate all work surfaces before and after your experiments.
- Clean laboratory equipment routinely, even if it is not contaminated.
- Avoid the creation of aerosols and/or splashes.
- Wash your hands after working with potentially hazardous materials and before leaving the laboratory.
- Decontaminate all potentially infectious materials before disposal.
- Report any incidents that may result in exposure to infectious materials to appropriate personnel (e.g., laboratory supervisor, safety officer).
- Do not eat, drink, smoke, handle contact lenses, apply cosmetics, or store food for human consumption in the laboratory.