Biological hazards

Activities with biological material are separated in four classes (often called BioSafety Level, BSL), related to the hazard of the manipulated organism, the scale of the activity, the steps, etc.

At EPFL there are three types of laboratories (no class 4 activities).

For any support, or complementary information, contact us.

In case of accident

Call the emergency number 115 or +41 21 693 30 00

Class 1 activities involve well-characterized agents not known to consistently cause diseases in immunocompetent individuals. These activities present minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment (no or low individual and community risk).

In this way, biosafety level 1 (BSL 1) laboratories are not necessarily separated from the other labs in the building. Work is typically conducted on open bench tops using standard microbiological practices. Special containment equipment is not required, but may be used as determined by appropriate risk assessment.


Guidelines for Biosafety Level 1 laboratory


You have to declare class 1 activities to authorities when genetically modified material is involved (modified cells, bacteria, animals, plants, etc.).


To establish if a material is genetically modified you can check the Annex 1 of the “Ordinance on Handling Organisms in Contained Systems”. The biosafety team will help you with the declaration.



The online course “Working in a biosafety level 1 laboratory” provides an overview of the main hazards that can be encountered in a biosafety level 1 laboratory, and covers topics such as good microbiological practice, accident management and chemical and biological waste management.

Working in a biosafety level 1 laboratory


Question about BSL 1 waste? We have a dedicated webpage for Biological waste management.

BSL 2 is suitable for work involving agents that can cause human or animal disease but is unlikely to be a serious hazard to laboratory workers, the community, livestock or the environment. Laboratory exposures may cause serious infection, but effective treatment and preventive measures are available and the risk of spread of infection is limited.


For BSL 2 environments:

  • a specific training is provided for laboratory personnel
  • the access is restricted
  • a biohazard sign is placed on the lab door
  • you have to minimize aerosol production and know how to correctly use a biosafety cabinet

All procedures in which aerosols or splashes may be created are conducted in a biosafety cabinet.


In a BSL2 lab, waste must be inactivated before disposal.

Guidelines for Biosafety Level 2 laboratory 

Guidelines for Prion-like proteins


You have to declare class 2 activities to authorities. The biosafety team will help you with the declaration.


Any question about BSL 2 waste ? We have a dedicated webpage for Biological waste management.

Please register for the FOBS 3 training and ask for the access rights via AxS.

The workflow for the validation of the BSL2 laboratory access is the following:

  1. The person requests the access to the BSL2 laboratory
  2. The request arrives to the BSO and the BSO has to validate it. By validating the access, the BSO confirms that the person requesting the access has been trained for the specificities of that BSL2 laboratory.
  3. After the BSO approval, the request is sent to the PI of the unit
  4. Following the PI approval, the request arrives to the biosafety team for final validation.

Bachelor students will not get access to the P2 (they can access the P2 only if accompanied by a trained and experienced person) and master students can get only partial access rights (Mon-Fri, 7h00 am to 7h00 pm).

For shared laboratories, the BSO and the PI have to confirm only requests coming from their own unit.

The maximum validity period for a BSL2 access has been fixed to two years. The BSO will receive an alert indicating that an access is going to expire. The BSO will then decide to renew or not the access.

The access request for a BSL2 laboratory is possible if:

  1. Future users have followed the FOBS3 mandatory training
  2. Future users are registered to the FOBS 3. In this case they will get only partial access (Mon-Fri, 7h00 am to 7h00 pm) until the training is completed.

A risk group 3 organism is considered by the World Health Organization as a “pathogen that usually causes serious human or animal disease but does not ordinarily spread from one infected individual to another (high individual risk, low community risk).” Effective treatment and preventive measures are usually available.

The biosafety level 3 (BSL3 or P3) laboratory is designed and provided for work with risk group 3 microorganisms. BSL3 containment requires the strengthening of the operational and safety programs over and above those for basic laboratories (P1 and P2).

Guidelines have been developed on this subject:

Guidelines for P3 available upon request

Please contact the biosafety team at [email protected] and register for FOBS 3 training.

The Human Research Act (HRA, 810.30) requires that any research involving humans must be evaluated and authorized by the cantonal ethics commission. The collection of human blood samples (or other human samples) for experimental purposes falls into the category of projects that need to be approved by this commission.

The process has to be done on the CER-VD website.

How to work with human samples?

For the biosafety aspects: where to work? which equipment? what to do with the waste? etc. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

An import certificate from authorities might be necessary to import pathogens.

  • An import certificate is not legally required to import of the majority of human pathogens.
  • More information on the website of the Office of Public Health (FOPH).
  • The Veterinary Office (FSVO) requires an import authorization for animal pathogens and for products of animal origin (e.g. food products).
  • In order to get an import permit, it is necessary to fill the form on the FSVO website.

For P2 biohazard spills:

Only aprouved biocides have to be used as decontaminants:

For the management of P3 spills, please refer to the P3 guidelines.