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Biological Safety Cabinets

A biological safety cabinet is a primary barrier against biohazardous or infectious agents. Although biological safety cabinets surround the immediate workspace involving an agent, they do not provide complete containment (i.e., aerosols can escape). Therefore, careful work practices are essential when working with agents that require a biological safety cabinet.

NOTE: A biological safety cabinet is often referred to by other names such as: biohood, tissue culture hood, or biological fume hood.

All biological safety cabinets contain at least one High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. These cabinets operate with a laminar air flow (i.e., the air flows with uniform velocity, in one direction, along parallel flow lines).

Biological safety cabinets must be inspected and certified:

  • When newly installed
  • After filter or motor replacement V - 10
  • After being moved
  • Annually

Contact your components safety officer for more information about inspections.

The following sections discuss safety procedures and guidelines for working with various types of biological safety cabinets.

9.1 Types of Biological Safety Cabinets

The following table outlines various types of biological safety cabinets:

Type of Cabinet Operation and Use
Class I Only exhaust air is filtered. The user and environment are protected but the experiment is not. Operator's hands and arms may be exposed to hazardous materials inside the cabinet. This cabinet may be used with low to moderate-risk biological agents.
Class II: Vertical laminar air flow with filtered supply and exhaust air. The user, product, and environment are protected.
Type A Recirculates 70% of the air inside the cabinet. Do not use with flammable, radioactive, carcinogenic, or high-risk biological agents.
Type B1 Recirculates 30% of the air inside the cabinet and exhausts the rest to the outside. May be used with low to moderate-risk agents and small amounts of chemical carcinogens or volatiles.
Type B2 Offers total exhaust with no recirculation.
Type B3 Same as Class II Type A, but vented to the outside of the building.
Class III or Glovebox Gas-tight and maintained under negative air pressure. Used to work with highly infectious, carcinogenic, or hazardous materials. All operations are conducted through rubber gloves attached to entry portals.

9.2 Using Biological Safety Cabinets

Follow these guidelines for using biological safety cabinets properly: Preparation

  • Leave safety cabinets on at all times. Otherwise, turn the blower on and purge the air for at least five minutes before beginning work.
  • Never turn off the blower of a biological safety cabinet that is vented to the outside.
  • Turn off the UV light if it is on. Never work in a unit with the UV light illuminated. (UV light will damage your eyes and skin.)
  • Do not depend on the UV germicidal lamp to provide a sterile work surface; wipe down the surface with a disinfectant (70% alcohol is usually suitable). NOTE: For more information on ultraviolet lights, refer to the Radiation Safety chapter.
  • Place everything needed for your procedure inside the cabinet prior to beginning work. Arrange the equipment in logical order.
  • Provide a container for wastes inside the cabinet. (Remember, nothing should pass through the air barrier until the entire procedure is complete.)
  • Never place any items on the air-intake grilles.
  • Place a disinfectant-soaked towel on the work surface to contain any splatters or spills that occur.
  • Keep the laboratory door shut and post signs stating "CABINET IN USE" on all the doors. Restrict activities that will disturb the cabinet's airflow, such as entry, egress, and walking traffic. Cabinet Use
  • Conduct work at least four inches from the glass view panel. The middle third area is ideal.
  • Limit arm movement and avoid motions that could disturb airflow.
  • If a burner is necessary, use the Touch-O-Matic type with a pilot light. Since flames cause air turbulence, place burners to the rear of the workspace.
  • Never use flammable solvents in a biological safety cabinet unless it is a total-exhaust cabinet (e.g., Class II B2). Even minimize volume, organism vapors can degrade the HEPA filters.
  • Experiment Completion
  • Enclose or decontaminate all equipment that has been in direct contact with the infectious agent.
  • Cover all waste containers.
  • To purge airborne contaminants from the work area, allow the cabinet to operate for five minutes with no activity inside the cabinet.
  • Remove all equipment from the cabinet.
  • Decontaminate interior work surfaces.

IMPORTANT: Biological safety cabinets are not a substitute for good laboratory practices. Because aerosols can escape, take precautions to minimize aerosol production and to protect yourself from contamination.