The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires some laboratory personnel to go through specified training. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) categorizes biological safety training in four levels. Level 1 and 2 deal with handling materials that could cause health risks, while 3 and 4 deal with infectious agents. For higher levels of training, requirements include knowledge of lab safety procedures, biohazard, air protective suits, as well as a tuberculosis test.
The American Biological Safety Association (ABSA) provides a wealth of education information, and many colleges offer courses and training that emphasize the importance of risk assessment and safety protocols. Continuing education in the form of refresher courses may be required after a specified number of years.
Biological Safety Levels 1 and 2 Training Programs
Biosafety level (BSL) 1 is the primary level of training needed for handling agents which are unlikely to cause health risks for those with normal immune systems. This program focuses on instilling safe laboratory practices such as wearing protective clothing and gear. BSL-2 training is designed for those who handle materials which may pose a low to moderate health risk. This level of training is geared towards proper methods and procedures for those who work with potentially infectious agents. Most level-2 agents are kept in restricted access environments. There are also separate programs (known as ABSL training) for those who work with animals.
Most programs are designed to contain the entire curriculum in a single course title. Some of the topics covered in BSL-1 and BSL-2 courses include:
- Risk assessment of basic hazards
- Risk identification
- Emergency response practices
- Viral vector awareness
- Basic safety practices
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Biological Safety Levels 3 and 4 Training Programs
BSL-3 training is for those who work with infectious agents which pose a serious or lethal health risk to those who come in contact either by touch or inhalation. Facilities requiring this level of training incorporate engineering and design safeguards. BSL-4 training is for those who work with infectious agents that pose life-threatening hazards and for which there are no vaccines or cures.
The main focus of these programs is education in the proper use of safety protocols and equipment as well as containment procedures. Courses cover topics such as:
- Cabinet laboratory safety methods
- Transportation of BSL-3 and BSL-4 agents
- Mock procedure demonstrations
- Biosecurity emergency response
- Biosafety communication
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) predicted a 5% increase in job opportunities for biological technicians during the decade of 2014-2024. In the same timeframe, occupational health and safety technicians are expected to have a 9% job growth. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual wages for biological technicians were $41,650. Occupational health and safety technicians earned $48,070 as a median yearly salary in 2015.
This training is applicable to a variety of careers. The lower levels pertain to those who work in such occupations as:
- Laboratory technicians
- Veterinary technicians
- Occupational health technicians and professionals
Those who have passed the training courses will need to undergo refresher training at regular intervals. BSL-2 training will require updating every three years. BSL-1 is the only level which does not require a refresher course at a later date.
In order to ensure that all laboratory personnel are familiar with potential occupational hazards in their environments, they must complete biological safety training programs. Depending on the nature of the research lab, they may need to complete training at BSL levels 1, 2, 3 or 4.