Activities with organisms in contained system

The aim of the Containment Ordinance is to protect human beings, animals and the environment from hazards or harm that could be caused by genetically modified, pathogenic or alien organisms.

The ContainO defines the contained system as a

system that uses physical barriers or a combination of physical and chemical or biological barriers to limit or prevent contact between organisms and people or the environment.

This definition covers laboratories, glasshouses, animal facilities and production units, in which work is carried out with genetically modified, pathogenic or alien organisms. Handling such organisms can be dangerous and can result in damage, such as e.g.

  • Diseases in humans, animals and plants;
  • Undesirable or harmful effects as a result of introducing or disseminating the organisms in the environment;
  • Undesirable or harmful effects as a result of natural transmission of genes to other organisms.

To minimize these dangers related to work with such organisms a detailed risk determination and assessment has to be done. In addition the appropriate safety measures have to be implemented.

Risk determination and assessment

The choice of the suitable “containment system” depends on the risk associated with a defined activity involving organisms. Any person who handles genetically modified, pathogenic or alien organisms in contained systems must first assess the possible danger to people and the environment, the degree of danger together with the probability that they would occur.

The risk determination and assessment according to ContainO consists of two steps:

Safety measures

General and special safety measures for protecting humans and the environment are to be taken as a function of the risk related to a defined activity. The general and special safety measures are described in Annex 4 of the ContainO for activities of safety levels 1-4 in:

  • research and development laboratories;
  • growth rooms and glasshouses;
  • installations with animals;
  • production units.

Biosecurity: Misuse potential

Research in the life sciences produces knowledge and technologies to the benefit of humanity and the environment. However, certain discoveries can become dangerous when misused out of ill intent.

Under "Links", you will find a report from the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences concerning this dual use potential.

According to Art. 26 para. 2 of the containment ordinance, the FOPH maintains a publicly accessible, non-conclusive list of organisms with a high potential for improper use. This list and the criteria are intended to make it easier for enterprises and enforcement authorities to assess the risk of improper use. They serve as a guideline to specify which organisms present the greatest threat in this regard and the nature of the threat.

Biological experiments outside of conventional laboratories

Under the section “Documents” you shall find a leaflet related to biological experiments carried out outside of conventional laboratories: required safety measures, rules, tricks and useful contacts.

This document has been elaborated by the Amt für Abfall, Wasser, Energie und Luft (AWEL) of the canton of Zürich on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).


Further information

Notifications and authorisations in the field of biosafety

The handling of genetically modified, pathogenic or alien organisms is subject to the notification or authorisation obligation. Here is information on the notification and authorisation procedures pursuant to the ContainO.

Last modification 14.02.2023

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Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
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