Guidelines for Cleaning up a Spill of Biohazardous Agent


1. Preparedness
2. People Contamination
3. Spill Cleanup
4. Post Cleanup

Related Topics:

All labs should be prepared to deal with a spill of biohazardous material: they should have the equipment on hand to effect a cleanup and disinfection of the area. All workers should be familiar with the procedures.

  • take care of people injuries first, then proceed with cleanup of the spill
  • alert others in vicinity that a spill has occurred
  • if a major spill (large volume or high risk (Biohazard level 2 or above); contact Communications Control Centre at the University of Alberta (5555) for assistance
  • if the organism is infectious via the respiratory route, have the air ventilation to the room shut down to reduce spread of the organisms (call 5555 and tell them to shut off fans to that area)
  • get spill cleanup protective equipment and supplies. Decontaminate area and autoclave all absorbent from the spill
  • report incident to the Departmental Safety Officer for documentation
  • replace items consumed to clean up the spill

1. Worker Preparedness: back to top

all workers should understand the nature of the biohazards they work with:

  • what risk does it pose to humans and the environment,
  • route of entry if infects animals,
  • what chemical disinfectant is recommended,
  • how to dilute the disinfectant and apply it to a spill.
  • how to dispose of biohazardous waste according to the University of Alberta Biohazard Waste Management guidelines,
  • location of equipment needed to clean up a biohazardous spill: there should be a supply of fresh disinfectant, personal protective equipment and spill cleanup supplies dedicated specifically for that task and accessible at all times,
  • post instructions for spill cleanup; everyone knows where they are located,
  • do a spill drill; see if the system works as intended

2. People Contamination or Injuries: back to top

check for cuts or splashes of biohazardous material on the person.

2A. Cuts:
Disinfect cut with 70% ethanol then wash with water and soap. Cover wound with sterile dressing and seek medical attention based on the severity of the cut or possibility of entry of organism through the cut. Go to the University Health Care Services (SUB) or the University Hospital Emergency room. Call Campus security (5050) for a ride if needed or for an ambulance, call the Control Centre (5555). As soon as possible, report any injury to the Department Safety Officer or APO and complete Workers Compensation forms if there is any chance that the injury may have a long term effect or involves loss of work time.

2B. Person Contamination:
Remove contaminated clothing immediately (place in an autoclave bag for sterilization) and treat the skin with disinfectant (70% ethanol). If you have contaminated your eyes, wash with water and soap and flush with lots of water. Get to a shower room and wash with soap/water. Hopefully you have a towel and change of clothes handy. If not, the Safety Officer has a selection of overalls and slippers as temporary replacement clothing. Seek medical attention depending on the nature of the biohazard and area of contamination: consider respiratory route, mucous membrane contact, and whether you have any cuts/abrasions on your body. As soon as practical, report the incident to the Department Safety Officer or APO.

3. Spill Decontamination and Cleanup: back to top

3A. Leave Room and Secure the Area
Leave the area. Hold your breath if there are spill aerosols in the room. If a lot of aerosols were generated in the spill, allow 30 minutes for the droplets to settle before entering room to start cleanup.
Note: if staying out of the room for a long time is likely to result in more serious damage, then get protective equipment before reentering the area

Alert others of the spill and restrict access to the area. Post warning signs at all room entrances. Get help for the cleanup. While waiting, you can summon help; notify the Campus Biosafety office at 3142 or 0122 or 1810 or contact the Control Centre-Operations Desk at 4855 and they will page help. If the spilled organism may infect people via the respiratory route or if there is significant aerosol generation, get the air supply to the room shut off to avoid spreading contamination throughout the building (call the Control Center-Emergency at 5555 - they can have fans shut down).

3B. Assemble the equipment needed for the cleanup

Get personal protective equipment and decontamination solution appropriate to the hazard:

  • lab coat or coveralls
  • rubber apron
  • rubber gauntlets
  • rubber boots
  • particle mask
  • HEPA filter mask
  • respirator with appropriate filter cartridges
    (depends on nature of the organism and disinfectant)
  • eye protection (goggles or full-face shield preferred over safety glasses)

All these items should be available in the lab ahead of time. They should be part of a kit that is maintained in one location and that all workers are aware of.

3C. Apply decontamination solution to the spill
Various solutions may be used but they must be reasonably fresh (check preparation date label) and appropriate to the nature of the biohazardous spill; disinfectants do not kill all organisms equally well (see Appendix for some notes on the different chemical decontaminants).

the decision as to which disinfectant to use should be made before work starts in that area and materials should be kept on hand in the lab area.

All workers should be aware of where decontamination solutions are stored and what they are designed for. Many solutions do not last very long after diluted so it is better to prepare working concentrations from a stock solution as needed. Make sure the proportions are posted and the equipment needed to make the dilution is available (part of the emergency response kit).

You do not want to expand the area of contamination any more than necessary and you want to avoid splashing the contaminated solution and generating aerosols during the disinfection process. First you want to cover the entire spill area with paper towels: start from the perimeter and working toward the center. Avoid stepping into the spill. After the area is covered, start to apply an appropriate volume of disinfectant over top of the towels. For a large volume spill, the working concentration of disinfectant may be too dilute to be effective so you may need to add full strength stock solution over the area. Try to estimate the volume of the spill to guide you in adding the stock solution. Avoid splashing and try to cover the entire area with the disinfectant; you want to reach every part of the spill volume. Make sure you allow sufficient time for the disinfectant to diffuse and work (30 minutes) before attempting the next step. Leave the spill area while you wait for the disinfectant to act.

3D. Recovery of adsorbent and liquid:
After the preliminary attempt at disinfecting the biohazard, you want to pick up everything and get it into an autoclave bag for sterilization.

Note: It is recommended that bleach solutions NOT be autoclaved as chlorine gas may be released. This would be a problem when the autoclave was exhausting after the run or especially when the door was opened. However, if the disinfectant was not adequately mixed into the spill or if there was a lot of protein in the spill that could decrease the effectiveness of the disinfectant, there may still be a biohazard associated with the material and further treatment would be necessary.

Hold all waste that has been treated with bleach solution in a secure area and contact the Department Safety Officer (22399) for further instructions.

Be careful if there is broken glass in the spill. Using heavy rubber gloves and other implements (e.g. dustpan, tongs), transfer the wet towels into the plastic autoclave bag. Seal the bag and overbag it with a clean bag before autoclaving for 30 minutes (or more depending on the mass of material in the bag). Make sure the bags are not tightly sealed during autoclaving; the steam must reach the materials to ensure a complete killing. Be careful if bleach was used to disinfect the spill as chlorine gas may be released during the process. Don't forget to autoclave the mop head or any other implements that might be contaminated. Make sure that everything is contained in a metal tray in case some of the plastics melt in the autoclave.

3E. Re-clean the Spill area:
To ensure complete disinfection of the area, repeat the application of disinfectant to the area (you should be able to use the working solution concentrations now if the area is not excessively wetted). Apply disinfectant beyond the area of the initial spill to ensure effective killing. Allow at least 20 minutes contact time and then use paper towels to absorb the solution and transfer all into another autoclave bag. Autoclave this too before disposal. Finally wash the entire area with soap and water. Do not leave this for Building services personnel. They are neither trained nor equipped to deal with these kinds of problem.

4. Post Cleanup: back to top

Replace all items used to cleanup the spill. If a bottle of bleach was opened, get a new bottle. Report any spills of biohazardous agents (other than trivial incidents: small volumes of low risk (level-1) agents to the Departmental Safety Officer (22399). A report for the Biosafety Office may be required. If you have a large spill or it is a level-2 or level-3 organism or if you are unsure of how to handle the spill and no knowledgeable help is at hand, contact the campus Control Centre (25555) and they will get help from the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.