Safety is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as

  1. the condition of being safe from undergoing or causing hurt, injury, or loss
  2. a device (as on a weapon or a machine) designed to prevent inadvertent or hazardous operation

Everything that can prevent harm is seen as a safety measurement, legislation to ensure safety in laboratory exist at different governmental levels.

To secure ourselves of safe working environments, working with genetically modified organisms, toxic substances we had to take certain measurements. These measurements can be divided in two subjects.

  • Protect ourselves
  • Protect the environment

Most safety precautions are summarized in the ten commandments of laboratory safety and to ensure a comfortable working environment also the DO's and DONT's of Good Lab Citizenship were of some importance. However, working with heavy metals (in combination with GMO's) might be novel to most labworkers. To protect ourselves from the heavy metals we worked with, all work was done in fume hood specially designated for working with heavy metals, while wearing nitrile gloves. All contaminated waste was collected separately in chemical waste bins. Bacterial cultures containing heavy metals were first treated with chlorine after which they were disposed together with the other contaminated waste. Disposing of the heavy metals had to occur through specialized ways to prevent the release into the environment.

Dutch Legislation

The legislation around biotechnology in the Netherlands is largely build around European guidelines and decrees. The main subjects in this legislation are to guarantee:

  • Safety of humans, animal and environment
  • Protecting the consumer and fair trade

Working with genetically modified organisms (GMO's) in the Netherlands is prohibited without a permit. The Ministry of housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment grants these permits, on grounds of the decree Genetically modified organisms, as it is the primary authority on this subject. The decree Genetically modified organisms is supplemented by the sanction Genetically modified organisms containing specifications for rules, general safety precautions and facility and workrequirement. However the lab facility should also follow the decree for arrangement- and permits environmental management.
The Ministry of housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment shares its responsibilities with the Dutch ministries of:

All represented in the Interdepartmental consultation Biotechnology, where actual affairs and progress of biotechnological projects are discussed.

Technical-scientific advice on the issues concerning the risks for humans and environment with applications of GMO's is given by The Dutch Committee on Genetic Modification (Cogem) which also gives advice on the safety precautions to take to protect them against those risks. Cogem also gives information on the ethical- and society issues on genetic modification. Cogem already reviewed the Synthetic biology in the Netherlands: Biological machines? Anticipating developments in synthetic biology, in which they divided the question about the hazards of synthetic biology in three parts:

  1. Is there a legislative framework for action?
  2. Can technical safety measurements be taken to manage risks?
  3. Can the risks be assesed?

The final conclusion of this report stated that for synthetic the current legislation for GMO's (summarized above) is fully applicable to synthetic biology. A need for new safety legislation especially for synthetic is non-exsting, however this report assumes that the work of synthetic organisms remains in laboratory environments.

University of Groningen

Within the University of Groningen the organization of biological safety, including all activities that are carried out with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is the legal responsibility of the Board of the University of Groningen. The University Board thus acts as the notifier in all GMO-related research where notification is required. The Faculty Boards have been mandated by the Board of the University to implement the rules as set out in the GMO Regulations within their own faculty.

Within the University of Groningen, biological safety is ensured on the central level by a biological safety organization comprising the biological safety officers (BSO) as well as a staff member of the Health, Safety and Environment Service (HSE). The HSE coordinates the notifications, maintains the register and, in cooperation with the BSO, advises the Faculty Boards and the University Board in the field of biological safety. The central organization is complemented on the local level by responsible officers.

BSO officers are appointed by the University Board on the recommendation of the Faculty Boards. In order to be considered for this position, BSO officers must have been approved by the The Ministry of housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment on the basis of the qualifications as set out in the GMO regulations. BSO officers are members of the staff office and can report directly both to the University board and their own faculty.

For each project a responsible officer will be appointed by the University Board on the recommendation of the Faculty Board. This officer is responsible for various aspects, including day-to-day matters concerning the activities involving genetically modified organisms.

Further reading

Global legislation

European legislation

Dutch legislation

Involved organisations

International organisation

The Biosafety Clearing-House

National organisation

Institutional organisation

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