Frequently asked questions
How biological agents and materials are classified, safety and security measures to apply and more
How are biological agents classified?
In Australia and New Zealand, biological agents (infectious microorganisms) are classified into four groups according to the degree of risk to humans, animals, plants and the environment. The classification system is based on World Health Organisation guidelines and takes into account the pathogenicity of the agent; the mode and ease of transmission; host range of the agent; and the availability of effective preventive measures and treatment.
- Risk Group 1 (RG1) agents have the lowest individual and community risk and include agents that rarely cause infection in healthy hosts. Some examples of RG1 agents: laboratory strains of non-pathogenic E. coli, S. cerevisiae, soil micro-organisms.
- Risk Group 2 (RG2) agents may cause disease in a healthy host but are difficult to transmit, don’t usually cause serious or life-threatening illness and are readily treated or prevented. Examples: pathogenic E. coli, Campylobacter spp, Plasmodium spp, prions, HIV (infected blood only).
- Risk Group 3 (RG3) agents are those that usually cause serious disease and may present a serious risk to laboratory workers. A Risk Group 3 agent may also present significant community risk if spread in the environment, but there are usually effective measures for treatment and/or prevention. Some examples: B. anthracis, hantavirus, yellow fever, HIV (cultures).
- Risk Group 4 (RG4) agents are those that present significant individual and community risks and usually produce life-threatening disease, are readily transmissible and effective prevention and/or treatment is not usually available. Examples: Ebola, Hendra and Nipah viruses.
To determine the risk group classification for a biological agent or material, refer to the AS/NZ Standard 2243.3 for indicative lists of agents and biological material. Other resources are available here.
In Australia, biological agents are also categorised by the federal government as being 'dual-use' in the Defence and Strategic Goods List (DSGL) and as 'security sensitive' in the Security Sensitive Biological Agent (SSBA) List.
How can I obtain a copy of AS/NZS 2243.3?
Download AS/NZS 2243.3 Safety in Laboratories Part 3: Microbiology safety and containment
All other Australian and joint Australian/New Zealand standards are able to be viewed and saved as PDF files through the Library’s online Database Search. You can access instructions on how to do this here.
PDF versions of these standards expire. It is therefore recommended to print out files that you wish to refer to in the future.
I plan to use a SSBA in my work. Where can I obtain more information?
The National Health Security (NHS) Act 2007, NHS Regulations 2008 and Security Sensitive Biological Agent (SSBA) Standards form a regulatory scheme monitored by the Department of Health to improve the security of biological agents that could potentially be used in acts of bioterrorism. The list of regulated agents includes bacterial toxins and biological agents that pose a danger because of their ease of transmission and/or the severity of illness they cause.
The SSBA list is divided into two parts: Tier 1 agents pose the greatest risk, while Tier 2 agents are rated as less likely to pose a security risk.
Contact us if you need more information about the regulatory requirements associated with SSBAs
How are biological materials classified?
Work involving biological materials