Lab accidents and biocontainment breaches

Think tank: Chatham House

Author(s): Professor David Harper; Emma Ross

December 12, 2023

This report from UK think tank Chatham House looks at policy options for improved laboratory safety and security.

This paper discusses a new mapping of all reports of laboratory accidents worldwide, published between 2000 and 2021, which finds that documentation and reporting of accidents are generally poor.

Many countries have no reporting requirements at all, and when incidents are reported, the information provided is often not good enough. This makes adequate assessment and tracking of the threat impossible.

The review also indicates that more comprehensive and systematic reporting of biocontainment breaches is critical to improving safety and security. Many biosafety measures used today are not based on evidence.

To minimize the likelihood of laboratory accidents and biocontainment breaches, it is important to continue to move towards an integrated and sustainable risk-based approach that takes into account the type of activity and local context, rather than the dominant inflexible approach where there is a one-size-fits-all classification of laboratories based solely on the hazard category of the organisms they handle.