Biosafety unit

The unit is a specialist in aerobiology, biocontainment and biosafety. The unit provides government departments and the commercial sector with expertise, advice and consultancy.

The Biosafety unit undertakes independent testing of air filters and biocontainment equipment such as microbiological safety cabinets and centrifuges. They also test medical equipment (liquid and air integrity) and disinfection technologies (liquids, surfaces and air) for a range of sectors, including healthcare and space exploration.

The Biosafety unit uses its expertise in microbiological laboratories, the pharmaceutical industry and in healthcare sectors for a wide range of national and international clients.

As your research and development (R&D) partner the Biosafety unit can assist clients with:

Testing of laboratory and medical equipment

The control of exposure to microbial contamination, and prevention of the release of biological agents, are both critical in the healthcare and laboratory environment. Using the Biosafety unit’s expertise in aerobiology and the handling of biological agents, we offer a wide range tests for laboratory and medical equipment.

We undertake a range of tests against current European Standards but also offer a service in which tests can be customised to evaluate novel or specialist equipment.

A selection of the tests we undertake are:

  • dynamic microbiological technique (described in Annex AA of IEC 1010-2-020) for testing centrifuge rotors and buckets
  • performance criteria for microbiological safety cabinets (see BS EN 12469:2000)
  • integrity testing of medical devices eg catheter lines
  • sterility assurance testing of medical devices

Gaseous disinfection

Many industries including the NHS, pharmaceutical and food sectors use gaseous disinfection to ensure a safe patient or working environment and for the decontamination of equipment and facilities, or to manage accidental contamination of indoor environments.

The Biosafety unit are experienced in carrying out gaseous disinfection and in assessing the effectiveness of air disinfection units either in our own laboratories or environmental chamber (20m³) at Porton Down or working with manufacturers in hospitals to evaluate their products. This expertise is applied by:

  • evaluating gaseous room decontamination technologies under controlled and reproducible conditions using a range of microorganisms either in high containment cabinets (1m³), or environmental chamber (20m³) at Porton Down
  • testing novel gaseous disinfection systems to assist manufacturers develop their products
  • providing training and expert advice to government bodies, the NHS as well as the commercial sector


The Biosafety unit tests containment equipment used in laboratories and healthcare settings to ensure that they give an adequate degree of protection to the users. This testing is either carried out to international standards or meets bespoke testing protocols developed as required.

Equipment that is evaluated and tested include:

  • laboratory centrifuge rotors and buckets
  • microbiological safety cabinets
  • negative pressure isolators
  • mail handling units
  • respiratory protective equipment
  • temporary isolation units

Aerobiology and air sampling

The Biosafety unit undertakes aerobiology studies to assess survival of micro-organisms in aerosols and carries out air sampling in wide range of healthcare and industrial environments.

The unit has extensive experience in monitoring environments using biological air sampling techniques and has a collection of more than 10 different types of microbiological air samplers, including specialist impactors, impingers and cyclonic samplers.

Water microbiology

The Biosafety unit has a role to provide specialist advice and undertake research in relation to water-borne outbreaks including bacteria such as Legionella spp and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The unit has a number of specialist advisers who work with the Department of Health and Health and Safety Executive. In addition they work with NHS Trusts during outbreaks to provide advices.

Disinfection testing

The Biosafety unit offers a range of routine tests to investigate the efficacy of disinfectants and antimicrobials against bacteria (eg Clostridium difficile, MRSA, Legionella pnuemophila, Acinetobacter baumanii), fungi (Aspergillus sp) and viruses (eg the norovirus surrogate, Feline calicivirus).

Tests available:

Decontamination studies

The Biosafety unit has undertaken a number of projects on behalf of the European Space Agency to investigate methods of decontaminating the inside of space modules and space suits including a collaborative project with a number of partners designing bio-containment facilities to contain Martian samples.

Decontamination studies conducted by the Biosafety unit include:

Bioresponse activities

The Biosafety unit has a number of specialist microbiologists to undertake microbiological sampling in a range of hazardous environments.

Public Health England (PHE) has supplied bioresponse teams for incidents involving 2 fatalities that resulted from inhalational anthrax due to Bacillus anthracis in Scotland and in Hackney, London.

In addition PHE’s Porton can provide advice concerning outbreaks in hospitals, cruise ships and community care homes and to discuss sampling methods and decontamination strategies.

Decontamination of personnel is also an important issue post-sampling, to ensure that all microbiological risks have been removed.

Advice and consultancy

The unit offers a range of services to clients to assist them with issues that arise as a result of contamination by hazardous micro-organisms.


Training courses on handling containment level 3 (CL3) and containment level 4 (CL4) micro-organisms are regularly organised for internal and external customers.


The Biosafety unit

Public Health England


Telephone 01980 612 392

Published 29 October 2010