This web page outlines the precautions to be taken when working with biological agents (BA), when carrying out genetic modification (GM), and tissue culture work. It also deals with University and national regulatory and enforcement matters.  This page is designed to assist you in both identifying BAs in the workplace and managing the risks they pose.

How is a Biological Agent (BA) defined and why are they important?

BAs are defined in legislation as ‘a micro-organism, including those which have been genetically modified, a cell culture, and a human endoparasite, which may be able to provoke any infection, allergy or toxicity classified according to their risk of infection.’

BAs are described according to whether they are bacteria, fungi, helminths, protozoa, prions or viruses.  Based on their potential for infectivity and appropriate treatment BAs are classified into 4 groups. If you use or are exposed to a BA during the course of your work in NUI Galway then according to the university’s practices and procedures you must conduct a risk assessment or be made aware of its existence by your manager.

Where do BAs occur in the workplace?

BAs are found in two principal areas University activities:

  • In laboratories, where they are used intentionally in teaching and research. 
  • In buildings and grounds generally, where persons may be unintentionally exposed during the course of support service functions.

What are the main requirements for managing BAs?

Each person responsible for work with or exposure to BAs must make appropriate arrangements to ensure that University policy and guidance is implemented. This responsibility extends to principal investigators and others who are accountable for the safety of persons at risk from exposure to BAs.  Individuals responsible for the working with BAs are required to:

  • Find out about the local rules, codes, practices and arrangements that the Unit operates.
  • Assess the risks associated when intentionally and unintentionally exposed to BAs and prepare a written assessment for each BA.  Particular attention must be paid to support service personnel who may be exposed to BAs in the course of their work in locations where BAs are intentionally used.
  • Ensure that laboratory facilities and working practices conform to the required containment levels, and that equipment used in intentionally storing and handling BAs have current validation certificates.
  • For the intentional use of BAs managers must ensure that all relevant national regulatory requirements and procedures are adhered to.  These include licence applications, risk assessments, formal notifications, keeping lists of exposure to some Group 2 BAs and all Group 3 and Group 4 BAs, and annual reports.  These must be conducted in close cooperation with the University Biological Safety Advisor. Adequate training, instruction and supervision must be given to all persons who may be exposed to BAs.