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Biologic Safety

The World Health Organization (WHO) laboratory biosafety manual, produced by the Special Program on Safety Measures in Microbiology (SMM), is now available.* It provides internationally applicable guidance on biosafety developed by several expert working groups.

Recognizing that laboratory accidents and infections are caused primarily by poor practice and technique, the manual emphasizes safe practice and training procedures. It also presents basic standards of laboratory design for work with microorganisms by degree of infective risk and a guide to selecting and using essential biosafety equipment and materials. Although oriented to biosafety, the manual also provides an overall, general laboratory safety checklist and safety procedures for using and handling laboratory chemicals.

Other sections of the manual deal with the organization and management of safety programs, safe shipment of specimens and infectious substances, and contingency plans and emergency procedures. An extensive bibliography and a list of audiovisual training aids are included.

The manual is intended primarily for the guidance and use of laboratory supervisors, biosafety officers, and others responsible for laboratory safety programs. Training Workshops

Orientation and training in laboratory biosafety have been a major effort of the SMM Program. To develop a global network of biosafety expertise, a series of "train-the-trainer" workshops has been conducted, and biosafety collaborating centers are being established. The WHO Regional Office for the Americas conducted the first course in June 1981 at the Public Health Institute, Sao Paulo, Brazil, the second in May 1982 at the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) in Trinidad and Tobago, and the third in November 1983 at the Pan American Zoonoses Centre in Argentina. A country-level course was held in July 1982 at the National Institute of Virology in Pune, India, under the auspices of the Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

In June 1983, a global workshop was held at the WHO Biosafety Collaborating Centre, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland. Twenty-one senior laboratory scientists representing 16 countries and the six WHO Regions attended. The participants, selected by the Regional Offices, will conduct regional and country-level biosafety courses, participate in other laboratory-oriented training courses, and be available to provide assistance to individual countries and laboratories on request.

Expert assistance and advice on special biosafety matters may be obtained from any of the following institutions:

  1. The Division of Safety (WHO Collaborating Centre), National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.

  2. The Environmental Microbiology and Safety Reference Laboratory (WHO Collaborating Centre), Public Health Laboratory Service Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research, Porton Down, England.

  3. The Bureau of Infection Control (WHO Collaborating Centre), Laboratory Centre for Disease Control, Ottawa, Canada.

  4. National Institute of Virology, Pune, India.

  5. Office of Biosafety, Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia.

Within the year, five additional institutions will be designated as WHO Biosafety Collaborating Centres.

Advanced professional training in biosafety is available at the School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514. Both master's and doctor of public health degrees in biohazard science are offered in the program established in 1979. Information may be obtained by writing to the Director. Additional information or assistance on biosafety may be obtained by contacting the Regional Offices or the Special Program on Safety Measures in Microbiology, WHO Headquarters, Geneva. Reported by WHO Weekly Epidemiological Record 1983;58:289-90.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Implementation of recommendations in the WHO manual should be useful in standardizing biosafety practices internationally. However, individual countries are expected to exercise judgment in determining the applicability of these recommendations within their countries, and some variations in acceptable biosafety practices are, therefore, expected from country to country. A collaborative effort that included input from biomedical scientists has been organized by CDC and NIH to develop a manual, Biological Safety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, which is expected to provide guidance specifically applicable to microbiological and biomedical laboratories in the United States. The manual will be available in early 1984.

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