Biosafety is the prevention of large-scale loss of biological integrity, focusing both on ecology and human health. These prevention mechanisms include conduction of regular reviews of the biosafety in laboratory settings, as well as strict guidelines to follow. Biosafety is used to protect from harmful incidents. Many laboratories handling biohazards employ an ongoing risk management assessment and enforcement process for biosafety. Failures to follow such protocols can lead to increased risk of exposure to biohazards or pathogens. Human error and poor technique contribute to unnecessary exposure and compromise the best safeguards set into place for protection.
The international Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety deals primarily with the agricultural definition but many advocacy groups seek to expand it to include post-genetic threats: new molecules, artificial life forms, and even robots which may compete directly in the natural food chain.
Biosafety in agriculture, chemistry, medicine, exobiology and beyond will likely require the application of the precautionary principle, and a new definition focused on the biological nature of the threatened organism rather than the nature of the threat.
When biological warfare or new, currently hypothetical, threats (i.e., robots, new artificial bacteria) are considered, biosafety precautions are generally not sufficient. The new field of biosecurity addresses these complex threats.
Biosafety level refers to the stringency of biocontainment precautions deemed necessary by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for laboratory work with infectious materials.
Typically, institutions that experiment with or create potentially harmful biological material will have a committee or board of supervisors that is in charge of the institution’s biosafety. They create and monitor the biosafety standards that must be met by labs in order to prevent the accidental release of potentially destructive biological material. (note that in the US, several groups are involved, and efforts are being made to improve processes for government run labs, but there is no unifying regulatory authority for all labs.
Biosafety is related to several fields:
In ecology (referring to imported life forms from beyond ecoregion borders),
In agriculture (reducing the risk of alien viral or transgenic genes, genetic engineering or prions such as BSE/”MadCow”, reducing the risk of food bacterial contamination)
In medicine (referring to organs or tissues from biological origin, or genetic therapy products, virus; levels of lab containment protocols measured as 1, 2, 3, 4 in rising order of danger),
In chemistry (i.e., nitrates in water, PCB levels affecting fertility)
In exobiology (i.e., NASA’s policy for containing alien microbes that may exist on space samples. See planetary protection and interplanetary contamination), and
In synthetic biology (referring to the risks associated with this type of lab practice)