— Biological Safety at USAMRIID —
Established in 1969, USAMRIID has decades of experience operating containment laboratories and has provided extensive training and consultation to other agencies setting up their own facilities. We consider safety—of our employees, our neighbors, and the surrounding community—our number one priority.
There are four levels of biological containment, ranging from Biosafety Level (BSL)-1, the lowest, to BSL-4, the highest. BSL-1 would be comparable to an open bench laboratory found in a school classroom—no special precautions would be needed. At BSL-2, USAMRIID employees wear laboratory coats and observe other basic precautions. For BSL-3 work, we require our personnel to change into scrub suits before entering the laboratory and take a complete shower before exiting. Other personal protective equipment may be required as well, depending on the tasks to be performed. BSL-4 is the highest level of containment, and employees wear positive-pressure suits commonly called "space suits" and breathe filtered air as they work.
Complete descriptions of the biosafety levels can be found in the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) handbook (5th Edition) at the following link:
In addition, a combination of rigorous training, meticulous procedures, tight security, carefully designed structures, and elaborate and redundant operating systems is in place to protect our laboratory workers. These measures also ensure the safety of those outside the suites. Investigators working in USAMRIID laboratories are highly trained to follow established safety procedures.
Heat, pressure, and chemical systems housed in the laboratory suites process and decontaminate all liquid and solid wastes completely, and air passes through high-efficiency particulate air filters, making all the liquid and air effluents safe before they leave the facility. Multiple redundancies in equipment and systems help to ensure that if an unexpected failure were to occur, a backup would be in place to maintain safety.
Investigators in the laboratories study tiny amounts of infectious agents and the diseases they cause in order to develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tools. USAMRIID's research involving infectious agents is reviewed and approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee, the Animal Care and Use Committee, the Portfolio Review Committee, and other internal and external reviewers as applicable. No studies can take place without careful examination of all protocols to assess risks.
The laboratories at USAMRIID are inspected and overseen by the Department of the Army, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and many other agencies to ensure their safe and secure operation.
— Safety Report Information —
In the interest of transparency, USAMRIID has compiled data from safety incident reports, which are filed whenever a laboratory mishap occurs. This information is updated on the USAMRIID website annually.
In order to properly assess safety performance over time, USAMRIID compares the number of incidents to the number of times employees entered BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories in a given year. It is important to note that in every incident from 2010-2012, no symptoms were reported and there were no signs of illness.
For instance, in 2012, USAMRIID had 20,402 entries into BSL-3 laboratories. During that time, there were 9 safety incidents within those laboratories; 2 were Potential Biological Exposures (PBE). A PBE means that some risk of exposure to infectious agents and/or toxins may have occurred, resulting in Occupational Health staff placing the personnel involved on precautionary medical surveillance. No illness or disease occurred in either case. The 2012 incident rate for BSL-3 laboratories was 0.044 percent.
Looking at BSL-4 laboratories, USAMRIID had 9,154 entries during 2012, with a total of 30 incidents including 6 Potential Biological Exposures (PBE). A PBE means that some risk of exposure to infectious agents and/or toxins may have occurred, resulting in Occupational Health staff placing the personnel involved on precautionary medical surveillance. In every case, no illness or disease occurred. The 2012 incident rate for BSL-4 laboratories was 0.328 percent.
To view a bar graph of the incidents/total lab entries for 2010 through 2012, click here
— Data Analysis —
The total number of BSL-4 incidents was the same in 2012 as it was in 2011, while the number of BSL-3 incidents decreased.
2012 incident rates for BSL-4 are slightly higher than those of the previous year, while the incident rates for BSL-3 are lower. Overall, the number of suite entries is much lower for 2012, especially for BSL-3 suites, several of which were down for renovation.
USAMRIID documents the type of incidents that occur in the laboratories to track trends and make procedural changes where necessary.
For example, the 2012 data for BSL-4 reflect an increase in positive pressure suit (non-glove) mishaps. USAMRIID uses two different types of positive pressure suits and has identified some performance issues with one. USAMRIID is evaluating use and handling as well as working with the manufacturer to address these concerns. The suit is being redesigned, and a new prototype should be available for testing soon.
As another example, in 2011, USAMRIID changed internal reporting requirements
to better assess performance of personal protective equipment. In BSL-4 laboratories, workers wear positive-pressure suits with heavy gloves attached, and additional gloves underneath. The outer suit gloves can experience small tears and pin holes, which do not pose a risk of exposure as long as the inner glove remains intact. However, to better assess each incident, in 2011 USAMRIID began tracking this information. The change in reporting requirements led to an apparent increased incidence for 2011 when compared to 2010.
At the same time it established the centralized reporting requirement for glove mishaps, the USAMRIID Safety Office also removed glove types from its inventory that were identified by laboratory personnel as poorly performing gloves. The 2011 and 2012 data reflect the performance of the resulting glove types. Having analyzed two years’ worth of data, USAMRIID has identified additional glove types that are being considered for replacement.
To view a chart that breaks down the types of incidents across BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories at USAMRIID from 2010 through 2012, click here