Laboratory accidents and biocontainment breaches

Policy options for improved safety and security
Research paper Published 12 December 2023 ISBN: 978 1 78413 590 4 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135904
A lab worker wearing protective gloves sitting at a workstation

Laboratory accidents can have serious and potentially catastrophic consequences. Laboratory-acquired infections and other biocontainment breaches, both of which can result in the escape of dangerous pathogens into the community, have the potential to trigger outbreaks with wide-ranging implications. Incidents like these are of concern to a broad range of stakeholders beyond the scientific research community – including policymakers, law enforcement agencies and the general public.

In the last few decades, regulation has increased and biosafety guidance has been strengthened. However, such accidents continue to occur with regularity and most are caused by avoidable human error and inadequate procedures.

This paper discusses the findings of a new review of all reports of laboratory accidents worldwide that were published between 2000 and 2021. The review highlights that few countries require the reporting of laboratory accidents, and that what is reported is a significant understatement of the scale of the problem. To improve safety and security where pathogens are involved, understanding of the full scale of laboratory accidents and their causes is essential, and a sustainable risk-based approach – that takes full account of local context, and can be tailored – must be at the heart of policymaking in the sector.