Which hazards are associated with activities involving high-risk pathogens? Are employees at all levels of the organisation aware of these risks and of the measures that can be taken? What is the status of the security culture within your organisation?

Employees who are aware of the biosecurity risks will act accordingly. To ensure the success of both biosafety policy and biosecurity policy, various officers and professionals in the organisation should be involved. These include biological safety officers, safety experts, occupational hygienists, laboratory staff, security staff, ICT staff, senior management, and in-house emergency responders. Employee awareness of biosecurity throughout the organisation is essential to identify abnormal situations in the workplace that may pose a threat to the organisation or society. If employees understand the hazards, they act accordingly and therefore pay attention to abnormal situations.

Well-trained employees

Cognisant, well-trained employees are an important aspect of the security culture within an organisation. The organisation should therefore invest in training and raising awareness. Corresponding with their specific duties and job titles, employees must have the competencies and skills to work safely with high-risk material, and must be aware of the hazards and risks associated with this work. In this respect, biosafety and biosecurity go hand-in-hand: employees work safely and securely to prevent accidents and deliberate misuse.

That is why the employee training programme should include not only biosafety training, but also the biosecurity priority areas and the Biosecurity Code of Conduct  (gedragscode biosecurity) of the KNAW. Each biosecurity priority area provides insight into different types of vulnerabilities, and all eight priority areas are required for a sound biosecurity policy. It is advisable to periodically focus on biosecurity with employees, for example by including biosafety and biosecurity in the job performance assessment or by periodically holding training sessions and incident simulations.

Safety culture

A safe working environment is a pleasant working environment. A healthy organisational culture in which employees are expected to call each other to account is important for biosecurity. Train employees in giving and receiving feedback, and encourage them to report abnormalities. Make sure that employees know who to contact if they want to raise issues or report incidents. Among other options, you can do this with an integrity programme or by appointing an integrity officer or confidential counsellor.

Integrity is very important: make sure employees act with integrity and know how to deal with sensitive information. Depending on the biosecurity issue at hand, employees must be able to contact the relevant experts in the organisation, or an independent person outside the organisation, to report abnormal behaviour or abnormal situations. The responsibilities for the various aspects of biosecurity within the organisation should therefore be clearly delegated and coordinated, and clearly communicated to the employees.

Where to begin?

There are many ways to raise biosecurity awareness. The approach can vary per target group in the organisation. For employees working in a laboratory, biosecurity should be included in the induction programme for new employees, and periodic attention should be paid to the security aspects of lab work. Awareness is important for all types of lab work and for all employees in a laboratory, not only for those working with high-risk material. To remind employees about biosecurity in the workplace, the Biosecurity Office has various resources, including magnetic cards with provocative aphorisms and postcards with the 'ten golden rules of security and safety', and microtube floating racks .

To enhance awareness of biosecurity management the Biosecurity Office, in collaboration with a group of experts, has developed various online tools such as the biosecurity toolkit. It provides both a quick scan and a more comprehensive vulnerability analysis. These tools can help your organisation identify vulnerabilities and priority areas that can be used to enhance biosecurity. In addition, a variety of resources are available in the Netherlands and abroad to help you enhance biosecurity, including the ‘laboratory biorisk management’ document from CEN (CWA15793).

Informative/educational materials tailored to your organisation

Besides providing general resources, the Biosecurity Office can help you develop informative and educational materials specifically for your organisation. We also organise lectures, workshops, an annual networking day and other activities. If you have any questions or suggestions, contact the Biosecurity Office: biosecurity@rivm.nl

List of best practices as an inspiration:

  • To enhance awareness, you can include safety and security in the annual employee performance reviews.
  • You can also support awareness with activities such as E-learning, intranet campaigns and sticker campaigns that broaden the scope and enhance the result.
  • Monitor and enforce the rules and agreements in your organisation regarding security.
  • Analyses and evaluations based on incident records and other reports provide insights that are worth communicating during department meetings or training sessions with employees.
  • Data on safety and security and the results of the corresponding analyses should be included in the annual report. This makes it clear to everyone which aspects need attention and improvement.
  • Organisation-wide communication about the performance of various departments.
  • Scorecards for each department lead to positive competition and encourage active engagement.
  • After an awareness campaign, it is important to keep the theme alive amongst the employees. Substantial effort is needed to maintain their attention and awareness. Taking appropriate safety/security measures while working is often seen as less important than getting the work done. It is therefore essential that employees stay alert about working safely.
  • The development and rollout of various e-learning modules within the organisation aims to increase the competencies of the employees and promote awareness. This training not only enhances the general awareness of risks in the work environment, but also provides guidelines on how to behave in that environment and what to do in case of incidents or near incidents. A second goal of the e-learning course is to ensure that employees report the incidents or near incidents. Based on actual cases, course participants are made aware of the usefulness and necessity of certain rules of conduct and how they enhance safety.