Legislation: Regulations are not prescriptive to this level, however, there are general principles that need to be observed for providing a safe workplace and adequate training to workers. Schools determine their policies and procedures based upon legislation and good advice such as the Australian Standards in order to provide a safe working environment for staff and a safe learning environment for students.
Currently in Australia, there are differences between the state/territory educational jurisdictional policies on whether certain microbiological activities can be carried out. Schools are advised to check what activities are permitted in their jurisdiction/school sector before proceeding to work with any microorganisms.
School policies: Government and non-government educational sectors formulate their own school policies regarding the types of manipulations allowed when handling microorganisms.
- Opening and subculturing of bacteria is not permitted in WA Department of Education (DoE) schools. (1)
- Generally, non-government schools in WA follow the safety policies as WA DoE schools. Schools that are considering using microorganisms need to ensure that proper facilities are in place for microbiological activities, relevant staff are trained in microbiology, a site-specific risk assessment completed and strict safety guidelines followed.
Laboratory classification: Generally, Australian school science laboratories are classified as Physical Containment level 1 (PC1), and this is only if they conform to the requirements specified in Section 5 of AS/NZS 2243.3:2010 Safety in Laboratories – Microbiological safety and containment. At this level they are only suitable for work with microorganisms where the hazard levels are low, and where laboratory personnel can be adequately protected by standard laboratory practice (2). Microorganisms that are classified as Risk Group 1 are the only group that should be handled in PC1 laboratories. Risk Group 1 microorganisms are those that are considered non-pathogenic to healthy individuals.
Micrococccus luteus (3,4) is a gram positive, aerobic microorganism typically found on human skin, in the mouth and respiratory system, in soil, dust, water and air; it is classed a Risk Group 1 microorganism. M. luteus can be handled safely in a Physical Containment level 1 laboratory (PC1)(4) using standard laboratory practice. Micrococcus luteus can be sourced from a number of reputable suppliers that can guarantee its purity.
Questions for schools: Before schools embark on working with microorganisms, they should ask the following questions and perform a site-specific biological risk assessment.
- Do the school facilities comply with the requirements of PC1 laboratories?
- Does the school have the necessary equipment for sterilisation and decontamination procedures?
- Do the staff have training in microbiological skills?
- What microorganism is being used?
- What manipulations are being performed with the microorganism? Are methods being used to eliminate or minimize exposure to potentially infectious material via aerosols, splashes, ingestion, absorption and accidental inoculation?(5)
- Are any staff or students wishing to participate in microbiological activities immunocompromised or immunosuppressed (Include those who are pregnant or may become pregnant, or are living with or caring for an immunocompromised individual)? These individuals are more prone to infections. If so, it has been suggested that they should consult a doctor to determine whether their participation is appropriate. (6)
Biological risk assessment: According to Biosafety in microbiological and biomedical laboratories (BMBL)(7), the following five steps should be considered.
- Identify agent hazards and perform an initial assessment of risk.
- Identify laboratory procedure hazards.
- Make a determination of the appropriate biosafety level and select additional precautions indicated by the risk assessment.
- Evaluate the proficiencies of staff regarding safe practices and the integrity of safety equipment.
- Review the risk assessment with a biosafety professional.
For an example of an SOP from the University of Sydney see Working with risk group 1 microorganisms.
Safety issues, are a significant consideration in microbiology as there is a potential for infectious hazards. The use of sound microbiological techniques and the strict observance of correct microbiological procedures will enable students and staff to work safely with microorganisms. It is accepted practice that all microorganisms be treated as potential pathogens and always handled with universal precautions (2).
There are many aspects regarding the use of microorganisms in school science laboratories that should be considered. Science ASSIST recommends the following:
- Training: It requires good microbiological training to have an appropriate level of understanding and technical expertise to apply correct aseptic techniques when manipulating microorganisms. Teachers supervising students, and technicians who prepare and dispose of the material should have some basic microbiological training.
- RG1 microorganisms: It should be remembered that, even though microorganisms are from Risk Group 1, some can still pose a low level of risk to the community as they can be capable of causing disease, if provided with appropriate conditions (opportunistic). People who are immunosuppressed or immunocompromised are at greater risk.
- Aseptic Technique: Aseptic techniques should be used at all times. A significant risk associated with microbiology is the generation of microbial aerosols. Release of microorganisms in the form of aerosols increases the risk of infection by inhalation.
- Media: The type of media used should not be selective for pathogens. Nutrient agar is a basic media that supports the growth of a wide variety of bacteria and moulds and is suitable for use in school laboratories. Media such as Blood and MacConkey Agar, designed to select for more fastidious microorganisms and pathogens should not be used.
- Incubation: Cultures should be sealed to allow for aerobic growth and incubated at temperatures of 30° C or below to avoid the growth of potential human pathogens.
- Subculturing: When subculturing a microorganism from plate to plate, the number of subcultures needs to be limited as excessive repeated subculturing increases the risk of phenotypic alteration.
- Environmental sampling: When culturing from the environment, samples should not be taken from areas likely to contain organisms harmful to humans, such as toilet areas.
- Waste disposal: It is essential that appropriate waste disposal and sterilisation procedures are adhered to, and also that an appropriate spill kit is available to handle any spill and staff are trained in its use. Sterilisation should be conducted in an autoclave or pressure cooker (15 psi. 121° C for 15–20min) before disposal into the regular waste.
Science ASSIST is in the process of consulting authorities in order to make nationally consistent sensible and workable recommendations for best practice in school microbiology.
Science ASSIST has previously answered a number of questions relating to microbiology, see:
(1) WA Department of Education Laboratory manual
(2) ‘Microbiology’ University of Sydney WHS website October 2013. http://sydney.edu.au/whs/guidelines/biosafety/microbiol.shtml (accessed November 2015)
(3) ‘Public Health Image Library (PHIL) 9756’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://phil.cdc.gov/phil/details.asp?pid=9756 (Accessed November 2015)
(4) ‘Micrococcus Pathogen Safety Data Sheet – Infectious Substances’. Public Health Agency of Canada website. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/laboratory-biosafety-biosecurity/pathogen-safety-data-sheets-risk-assessment/micrococcus.html (accessed November 2015)
(5) US Aid TB Care1. SOP Use of personal protective equipment in an AFB microscopy laboratory http://www.tbcare1.org/publications/toolbox/tools/sops/08_PPE_Culture_DST.doc (Accessed July 2015)
(6) American Society for microbiology Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories. 2012. http://www.uab.cat/doc/teaching_lab_ASM
(7) Biosafety in microbiological and biomedical laboratories (BMBL) 5th Edition. 2009. Section II Biological risk assessment. https://www.cdc.gov/biosafety/publications/bmbl5/
Hoffmann, Sheryl K. 1999. Microbiology Safety Considerations. Southern Biological website http://file.southernbiological.com/Assets/Products/Specimens/Microbiolog...
Standards Australia. 2010. AS/NZS 2243 Safety in Laboratories, Part 3: 2010 Microbiological safety and containment. Sydney, Australia.