Safety considerations and regulations ensure a safe working environment for everyone working in the lab and is crucial for the protection of the environment. In our team everyone was instructed about possible risks and safety precautions. Some of the most important safety precautions are listed and explained more detailed below.
There are several factors that contribute to a safe working environment in the laboratory. First of all, everyone working in the laboratory got a safety introduction. The safety introduction includes a general lab safety and risk assessment. The laboratory is secured with an electronic lock, this device enables controllable access restriction that regulates permission to enter the laboratory. All doors can be unlocked with a personalized token that is required for access. With this token only supervised students with a safety instruction can enter the laboratory. We worked in laboratories with biosafety Level 1 (BSL 1). Therefore, we only worked with organisms that are not harmful to humans or the environment. When it was required to work with toxic or hazardous substances, additional instructions by supervisors were given and further safety precautions were applied, according to the particular safety data sheets. Another safety precaution is personal protective clothing and equipment. That includes a lab coat, safety goggles and protective gloves.
In case of an emergency, the laboratory is fully equipped with emergency showers, eye showers and several types of fire extinguishers (see Fig. 1). Further equipment includes a first-aid kit and a defibrillator nearby. In addition to the equipment, people are trained in first aid.
In terms of the pandemic with SARS-CoV2, the access restrictions to the laboratory were stricter. The number of persons working in one room is limited and wearing a medical mask at all times is mandatory. Access to the lab is only allowed with a negative CoV2 antibody test (valid for 48 h) or for persons, who were either vaccinated or
recovered from an infection.
A safety instruction was mandatory for all participants before starting the laboratory work. The instruction was carried out according to several German regulations and had to be confirmed with a personal signature of all participants. In Germany, a safety instruction must be performed by a responsible person to any person who works in the laboratory and must be refreshed annually. This is regulated by the “Arbeitsschutzgesetz“ (see §12 ArbSchG).
The safety instruction covers general lab safety including mandatory controls to obtain a safe working environment and how to react in case of an emergency. Furthermore, regulations concerning hazardous and toxic substances, biological substances and genetic engineering were covered as well.
For working with devices, we have been given a separate instruction to safely operate it. This guaranteed safe and correct usage and enabled us to collect reliable data. Every device has a responsible person who instructed us in the correct handling and pointed out the respective hazards and precautionary measures.
As part of the safety management and risk assessment we worked with model organisms that are classified with biosafety level 1. This also reflects the open source character of iGEM, that all organisms can be used in every standard biotechnology laboratory. In terms of safety, we constantly had conversations with our instructors, PIs and different experts about biosafety and hazardous potential.
The risk of release and spreading of genetically modified organisms was reduced by autoclaving waste and vessels after usage. To the current state, release of our modified plants and bacterial strains is not planed, due to a general lack of established safety precautions, which prevents the genetically modified plants from spreading and genetic exchange. In Germany, the work and release of GMOs is strictly regulated.