Oversight for biosafety at VIU is managed through the Scholarship, Research, and Creative Activity Office.

Please contact the VIU Biosafety Officer for all questions related to the VIU Biosafety Program.

Biosafety describes the containment principles, technologies, and operational practices that are implemented to prevent unintentional exposure to pathogens or toxins, or their accidental release (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2015). These include physical containment and operational practices for facilities where these materials are handled or stored. Everyone handling infectious material or toxins needs to understand the risks associated with the material they are handling, and ways to prevent exposure of workers and release into the environment. For example, if a pathogen is easily transmitted by aerosols, one would consider how to reduce or contain aerosols, or take added precautions when there is a risk of generating aerosols. The goal of biosafety then is to contain infectious material and toxins safely within the laboratory (workplace) environment.

What is a Risk Group?

The Risk Group is the classification of biological material based on its inherent characteristics, including pathogenicity, virulence, risk of spread, and availability of effective prophylactic or therapeutic treatments, that describes the risk to the health of individuals and the public as well as the health of animals and the animal population.

  • Risk Group 1 (RG1): Low individual and community risk
  • Risk Group 2 (RG2): Moderate individual risk, low community risk
  • Risk Group 3 (RG3): High individual risk, low community risk
  • Risk Group 4 (RG4): High individual risk, high community risk

RG1 – this includes RG1 microorganisms, animal cells or cell lines, genetically modified RG1 organisms, recombinant DNA.

VIU requires RG1 work to be clearly inventoried by each lab as some funding agencies require the tracking of recombinant DNA work and genetically engineered materials. Clear inventories also helps the Biosafety Committee ensure that every faculty member and/or researcher has appropriately assessed the risks of the organisms they are using.

RG2 – this includes RG2 microorganisms, human/animal cells or cell lines, other primate body fluids and tissues, genetically modified RG2 organisms, toxins listed in the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act.

Teaching Labs – By authorizing the teaching labs that use any of the materials listed in these two categories, VIU ensures that each of our students is being trained in biosafety from the start.

Why do I have to consider the host?

Of primary concern in assessing host factors are the worker’s medical status, attitudes and experience with biological materials. A worker with special health conditions or poor immune status could be more at risk when working with biological materials; for more information, consult with your healthcare provider. Risk increases substantially when workers have not been adequately trained or informed of the hazards associated with their work.

The Environment: This element of the risk assessment considers the manner and location in which the biological agent is manipulated, how it is manipulated, and specifics such as the quantity of the agent, aerosol production and the use of sharps and needles.

What is a Containment Level?

The required Containment Level is determined after the agent’s Risk Group is identified. Establishing a Containment Level minimizes risk by considering the operational requirements (e.g., training, SOPs, engineering control, personal protective equipment) and physical requirements (e.g., lab design, barriers) of the biohazard.

A biological agent’s Risk Group is not the sole determinant for establishing a Containment Level. The risk group system does not account for the procedures employed during the manipulation of a particular organism or the host factors. Depending on host and environmental factors, the containment level may be higher or lower than the agent’s risk group.

The Canadian Biosafety Standard establishes four containment levels:

  1. Containment Level 1 (CL1) agents require no special design features beyond those suitable for a well-designed and functional laboratory.
  2. Containment Level 2 (CL2) agents are primarily transmitted through the ingestion, inoculation and mucous membrane routes, but are not typically airborne.
  3. Containment Level 3 (CL3) agents may be transmitted by an airborne route, often have a low infectious dose to produce effects and can cause serious or life-threatening disease. CL3 facilities require primary and secondary barriers to minimize the release of infectious organisms.
  4. Containment Level 4 (CL4) agents have potential for aerosol transmission, often have a low infectious dose and produce very serious and often fatal disease with no available treatment or vaccine. CL4 facilities are functionally isolated and, when necessary, structurally independent of other facilities.

Why do I need to submit a VIU Biohazardous Materials Authorization Application?

The VIU Biohazardous Materials Authorization is used to ensure that faculty and staff are assessing biohazard risks within courses and/or research projects and have clear plans in place showing how exposure is being prevented to both themselves and others around them (including students) through adequate laboratory, physical and operational controls/practices in place to prevent exposure to people and the environment. This process also ensures that the University meets the many compliance requirements of VIU's federal licenses issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency. Compliance is closely linked to the various grant funding agencies.

Why do I need to complete a Local Risk Assessment with my Biosafety Authorization?

Before beginning any work, faculty and/or staff using RG2 or higher biohazards must complete a local risk assessment. A local risk assessment looks at the biological agent and identifies in your processes where there is the potential for exposure to the person handling the material, those around them, and the environment (spills, direct contact, through the air, inoculation, etc.)

The risk associated with using bacteria, viruses, fungi and other biohazardous materials varies with each agent and its method of use.

Before you start your Local Risk Assessment, please complete the Public Health Agency of Canada Local Risk Assessment course. Once you have finished the course you can then complete the

What happens after I submit a Biosafety Authorization Application

The VIU Institutional Biosafety Committee assesses each authorization application to determine if the teaching/research activity is acceptable per VIU's federal human pathogen and toxins license, and the proposed hazard control methods are acceptable to mitigate possible exposure to the biohazard. Depending on what is proposed, the committee may recommend working at a higher level of containment if necessary.

The Committee also ensures that the proposed facility and laboratory is adequate for the work, confirms that safety equipment (including biological safety cabinets) are functioning properly, and advises on the training required by the faculty and staff conducting the research.

What training do I need to work with biohazardous materials at VIU?

All personnel working with biohazardous materials require:

  • WHMIS 2015
  • Employee Health and Safety Orientation
  • Public Health Agency of Canada e-learning series of training.
  • Other biosafety-specific training as identified through your local risk assessment (i.e. equipment-specific training, chemical safety, radiation safety, X-ray Safety, etc.)

For more information, please contact the VIU Biosafety Officer by email for assistance determining your specific needs

When do I need to contact VIU regarding biohazards?

Contact the VIU Biosafety Officer to determine training needs or for technical expertise with biohazardous materials, or to request a review of procedures or facilities involving the bio-hazardous materials.

When do I need to contact the VIU Institutional Biosafety Committee regarding biohazards?

Contact the Scholarship, Research and Creativity Office for assistance with applying for or obtaining a Biosafety Authorization using ROMEO, or with questions about the Biosafety Committee.

Who regulates and determines Containment Level requirements in Canada?

Two federal agencies regulate work with biological materials in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada primarily oversees work with human pathogens. The Canadian Food and Inspection Agency oversees work with animal pathogens.

What if I am working with human blood and body fluids?

Human blood and body fluids are potentially pathogenic and are considered biohazards. Users of these materials must apply for and receive a Biosafety Authorization prior to use and must complete the appropriate Biosafety Course as advised by the VIU Biosafety Officer. The materials must be handled under Containment Level 2 protocols.

Human blood samples for experimental use may only be obtained from the following sources:

  1. Commercial vendors
  2. Volunteers other than the Authorized User and who are not personnel (faculty, technicians, staff) from the Authorized User’s lab/course and who do not have access to the lab.

Human ethics approval must be obtained when using volunteers.

Hantavirus infection is caused by a virus that is found in some rodents, especially deer mice in Canada. People can contract the disease when they breathe in the virus, which is found in the urine, saliva or fecal droppings of infected rodents. Hantavirus infections usually occur in rural or semirural areas where people are more likely to come into contact with rodents. Report signs of of rodent activity or rodent sightings to your supervisor and Facilities Services.