In accordance with the CDC Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (5th ed.):
“Open flames are not required in the near microbe-free environment of a biological safety cabinet. On an open bench, flaming the neck of a culture vessel will create an upward air current which prevents microorganisms from falling into the tube or flask. An open flame in a BSC, however, creates turbulence which disrupts the pattern of HEPA-filtered air being supplied to the work surface. When deemed absolutely necessary, touch-plate microburners equipped with a pilot light to provide a flame on demand may be used. Internal cabinet air disturbance and heat buildup will be minimized. The burner must be turned off when work is completed. Small electric "furnaces" are available for decontaminating bacteriological loops and needles and are preferable to an open flame inside the BSC. Disposable or recyclable sterile loops should be used whenever possible.”
In accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) Laboratory Biosafety Manual:
“Open flames should be avoided in the near microbe-free environment created inside the BSC. They disrupt the airflow patterns and can be dangerous when volatile, flammable substances are also used. To sterilize bacteriological loops, microburners or electric “furnaces” are available and are preferable to open flames.”
In light of recent events at UCLA involving fires inside of biosafety cabinets, the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) has adopted a guidance policy for the use of open flames inside of biosafety cabinets.
In consideration to the aforementioned CDC and WHO guidelines, recommendations from the manufacturers of biosafety cabinets, laboratory safety risk assessments, recent incidents involving fires inside of biosafety cabinets, and other factors, the UCLA IBC has adopted the following guidance policy:
The IBC strongly recommends that the practice of using open flames and Bunsen burners inside of biological safety cabinets that re-circulate air be discontinued immediately.
Below are some recommendations for safe alternatives to using Bunsen burners inside of a biosafety cabinet. If your lab has scientific justification for the use of an open flame inside of a biosafety cabinet please consult with the IBC. Alternatives include:
- Flame-on-demand Burners
- Electric burners
- Disposable tools
For more information about these safety guidelines, resources, safe alternatives to Bunsen burners, biosafety cabinet training, or about this policy, contact the UCLA Office of Environment, Health & Safety Biosafety at (310) 206-3929, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://ehs.ucla.edu/biosafety.
- Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, 5th Edition, Appendix A: Primary Containment for Biohazards: Selection, Installation and Use of Biological Safety Cabinets
- World Health Organization Laboratory Biosafety Manual, 3rd Edition, Part III: Laboratory Equipment