What Is Biosecurity and Why Is It Important?
Biosecurity is the preventive measures various organizations take to prevent the spread of harmful organisms and ensure the health of an ecosystem. It is of vital importance to the health and wellbeing of all countries around the world, helping to prevent the spread of infectious agents that cause disease. A very basic example of biosecurity is using protective equipment such as gloves, masks and glasses when handling hazardous materials. However, its extent and reach is much wider and needs to be applied to various industries. For this reason, biosecurity is of vital importance to scientific research, agriculture, public health policy and many other fields.
If you have not heard the term before, thedailyECO explains more by asking what is biosecurity and why is it important? More than just providing a definition of biosecurity, we provide examples of biosecurity in various contexts.
What is biosecurity?
There various definitions of biosecurity, but the main concept is the same. The World Health Organization refers to it as biosafety and considers biosecurity to be:
The safe working practices associated with handling of biological materials, particularly infectious agents.
Such an approach to biosecurity appears limited to the laboratory and other centers which handle infectious agents. However, biosecurity is important for all organizations, places of business, industrial setting and even the home. While particular care needs to be taken with industries using hazardous materials, biosafety needs to be considered for all enterprises.
We can think of biosecurity as a set of practices, measures, protocols and standards applied to various contexts. It is particularly important in scientific research, public health and related fields. However, industries at great risk also include factories and processing plants which either use or create hazardous material which can be of biological origin.
Learn more about hazardous materials with our guide to what is solid waste?
Why is biosecurity important?
Essentially, the main objective of biosafety is risk management when dealing with hazardous biological materials. The implementation of procedures and protocols are designed to reduce and prevent the risks associated with exposure to potentially dangerous agents such as microorganisms, chemical products or other biological materials. In particular, it manages the risk of infectious disease which can be spread by said materials.
For any industry that uses biologically dangerous materials, biosecurity is an imperative part of operations. Not only is it advised to reduce the threat of infection, but it is a legal requirement to prevent the spread of dangerous biological agents which can put the health of the individual, their larger community and their environment at risk.
Learn more about these risks with our guide to the different types of environmental impact.
Basic principles of biosecurity
To better understand what is biosecurity and why it is important, we need to look at the basic principles of biosafety which can be applied to all fields. These are the preventive measures, protocols and even basic behaviors which personnel working in various industries need to implement. In this context, we can say the four basic principles of biosecurity are:
- Risk assessment: the evaluation process in which the probability of accidents occurring such as damage, injury or infection is measured. Personnel who handle potentially harmful biological agents must be aware of the risks and know how to master the appropriate techniques to handle them safely.
- Universality: biosecurity measures must involve the entire institution. Among them, staff, patients (if applicable) and visitors must routinely comply with the rules established to prevent accidents.
- Barriers: this principle is related to avoiding direct exposure to potentially dangerous materials by using suitable equipment or instruments that avoid contact with them. This process is focused on minimizing accidents. One barrier can be vaccines (immunization), others are primary barriers such as gloves, goggles and hazmat suits. There are also secondary barriers such as ventilation systems or sinks.
- Means for removing contaminated material: involves the set of specific devices and procedures by which contaminated biological samples are safely removed and disposed.
Improper disposal of biohazardous material is one of the worst forms of pollution affection various ecosystems. Learn more with our article on environmental degradation with examples.
Also known as pathogen/protection levels, biosafety levels are an important guide for biosecurity. Since the risks to biosecurity differ, our corresponding approach to biosecurity differs. For this reason, we can find the following biosafety levels:
Biosafety level 1
This level applies to microorganisms that represent a very low danger to the worker, the population and the environment. For this reason, no special equipment is required. Biological agents can be handled with standard precautions such as the use of gloves and masks. Work is usually done on open benchtops and contaminated materials can be disposed of in open waste containers.
Biosecurity Level 2
Biosafety level 2 handles moderately dangerous pathogens. Although similar to level 1, it presents some differences, such as:
- Staff are specifically trained to handle certain agents.
- Access to the laboratory or other workplace is restricted at the time of handling.
- Some precautions must be taken with sharp instruments that are contaminated.
- Certain dangerous procedures need to be carried out inside biological work cabinets.
Biosafety level 3
At level 3, work deals with pathogens that can cause severe damage to health and can even be fatal. This is as a result of their exposure or inhalation. A clear example is that of the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic. At this level, more advanced security measures are required. These include specialized ventilation systems and specific equipment for personnel who are trained to handle these agents.
Biosafety level 4
This level is used in the case of working with infectious agents that represent a high level of contagion and that can be very harmful and even cause death. The personnel of these laboratories have specific training in the handling of said agents and the work is produced in a sterile and controlled environment. The laboratories have negative pressure to prevent agents from escaping to the outside and are also isolated from the rest of the environment. Diseases such as ebola, hantavirus, and smallpox are handled at this level.
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1. WHO. (n.d.). Biosafety. Retrieved from: