While a well-treated biological safety cabinet (BSC) can last for decades, it is also crucial for the safety of staff and the protection of products, so it’s important to know when a BSC should be upgraded.
Luckily, many of the physical signs of needing a new BSC are easy to recognize. As one example, rust or corrosion on the outside or inside of the cabinet is a red flag to replace your existing BSC. It’s also important for lab managers to observe the ergonomics of their lab’s BSC relative to their staff’s daily work. “Certain factors of new cabinets have drastically improved the way users work in BSCs, such as integrating cabinet display screens at eye level for easy viewing of things like filter life and alarms,” says David Wasescha, director of Biosafety Products, Labconco. If your BSC is causing ergonomic issues for your team, upgrading to a more modern cabinet is a wise choice.
“Try to spend as much as your budget allows to get the best device possible with the best features, simply because safety cannot and should not be compromised.”
A less obvious sign that it is time to consider an upgraded model is the potential energy savings. “Modern BSCs are much more energy efficient than older type ‘energy hog’ BSCs that are still using AC motors,” says Marc Dunn, technical applications specialist at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “The return on investment by switching to a new modern DC motor Class II BSC should be evaluated.”
As with many other types of lab equipment, when replacement parts for your BSC are becoming scarce or are unavailable, you’ll need to consider purchasing a new unit. Additionally, a BSC that requires repetitive servicing to keep it running or that has failed its annual NSF certification test is one that has reached the end of its life cycle, according to Dunn. But if you only need to protect a product in your lab, rather than the operators, you may not even need a BSC—another option like a clean bench may suffice.
Even if funds to purchase a new BSC are very limited, there are still quality options available. Here are a few tips for buyers on a budget:
- Take the time to do your research on the options available to ensure you get the best all-around value
- Investigate leasing programs
- If you manage an academic lab, some vendors offer special pricing
Because BSCs are capable of lasting so long, many lab managers may be unaware of the newer features of modern BSCs. According to Wasescha, the greatest improvements to BSC technology are safety, performance, and comfort. “BSCs manufactured prior to 2007 lack sophisticated airflow compensation systems that constantly monitor and adjust cabinet performance to protect both users and samples,” says Wasescha. However, today’s BSCs are “producing and maintaining precision airflows that marry sterility and safety in a consistent and energy-efficient manner,” he adds.
Additionally, monitoring and documentation are important, especially in controlled, GMP environments. “Older BSCs lack the capability to adequately document process control and protection measures,” says Dunn. “High-end products for controlled environments include a touchscreen interface and connectivity functions to preserve important performance data.”
When shopping for a new BSC, don’t get hyper-focused looking just at the sale price. “Look for a manufacturer that provides cutting-edge innovation that won’t tire over the cabinet’s life,” says Wasescha. Also choose a manufacturer that offers post-purchase support. According to Wasescha, signs of a highly-supportive manufacturer include those that offer a warranty of at least five years, provide easily accessible technical support, and have a good reputation with certifiers who test BSCs after installation.
Other tips to keep in mind during and after the purchase of your new BSC include:
- Make sure the BSC fits the space and workflow
- Look for a BSC that includes features to support cleaning, such as a UV germicidal light and stainless-steel surfaces
- Ask questions such as what the power consumption is, if spares are readily available, cost of filters, how long the warranty is, and if you really need to exhaust to atmosphere
- Take advantage of training from the vendor once you’ve purchased the new BSC to ensure you and your staff use it properly
- Do a proper risk assessment through your biosafety office
- Consider the steps involved to safely decommission your lab’s old BSC, if needed. This may include fumigation and ensuring proper steps are taken to dispose of the instrument properly
“Try to spend as much as your budget allows to get the best device possible with the best features, simply because safety cannot—and should not—be compromised,” advises Dunn.
How to ensure a long life for your new BSC
After you’ve made a purchasing decision for a new BSC, there are two simple tips Wasescha suggests to ensure the longevity of the unit. The first is to have the BSC certified upon installation, and then at least once per year. “Certifiers are also a great resource and can advise on any issues with a BSC that may pop up later in the cabinet’s life,” explains Wasescha. The second tip is simple—clean the BSC regularly. This means after each use and immediately after any spills. Wasescha advises to also do a deep clean every few weeks.
While BSCs can run well for decades before needing replacement, features aimed at improving efficiency, safety, and ergonomics have become standard in modern models. If your BSC is more than 20 years old, it is time to evaluate how these new features could benefit your staff and lab’s workflows. It may be worth the investment.