NIH and USDA Biosafety & Biosecurity Initiatives

September 5, 2014:  William S. Properzio, Director, Environmental Health and Safety, issued an Administrative Memo regarding New NIH and USDA Biosafety & Biosecurity Initiatives

Recent biosafety-related incidents from the US Public Sector have triggered a series of events, including a US Congressional Hearing addressing the CDC Anthrax incident, issuance of a subsequent GAO (Government Accountability Office) report, and an investigation by the Energy and Commerce Committee (a US House of Representatives legislative committee) regarding the handling of biohazards by federal laboratories including the CDC, FDA, and NIH.

In response, the NIH announced last week a new Biosafety Stewardship initiative, naming this September as National Biosafety Stewardship Month. The goal of this initiative is to bring awareness to the importance of biosafety standards and to strengthen biosafety oversight and practice by reaffirming a commitment to biosafety at all levels of the organization. The NIH has contacted all institutions that receive NIH funding, including the University of Florida, to encourage their participation. Specific directives for grantees can be found in the NIH Guide Notice for Grants and Contracts.

The USDA has broadcast a similar request to all university departments that partner with the USDA or receive USDA funds to participate in a Safety Stand Down period. The time is to be used to assess laboratory biosecurity and biosafety and to follow through with improvements to the biosafety culture.

Both federal agencies provided a list of specific activities they would like institutions to undertake. These include:

  • Reexamine current policies and procedures for biosafety practices and oversight to determine whether they require improvement;
  • Conduct inventories of infectious agents and biological toxins in all laboratories to ensure that the institution has a record of which infectious agents and toxins are being utilized, has documentation that those materials are properly stored under the appropriate containment conditions, and has documentation that cites the party responsible for appropriate stewardship of the materials; and
  • Reevaluate, reinforce and update biosafety training

While these activities are valuable steps, the promotion of biosafety should not be a one-time event. The Biosafety Office in the Division of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Florida remains committed to maintaining and consistently improving our biosafety program in accordance with established best practices.

At this time, we are requesting that Department Chairmen ask all their investigators to:

  1. Take a careful and thorough look in all their storage areas
  2. Document the inventory of stored infectious agents and biological toxins on this Biological Agent Inventory Form and submit the inventory to the Biosafety Office
  3. Limit the amount of stored materials to only what is necessary; consult the Biosafety Office for appropriate inactivation and disposal methods as needed
  4. Prevent unauthorized access to these materials by locking storage devices located in common areas or moving the storage to more secure locations

Appropriate tracking and storage of inventory will be emphasized in laboratory audits and will be tied to the laboratory closeout policy/process. If you have additional questions, please contact Sharon Judge, Biosafety Officer, by email or 392-1591.