Biological activities


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Guideline review date: 28 October 2021

​This guideline is provided to support schools in implementing the managing risks in school curriculum activities procedure.

The CARA planner must be used for the specific school context in conjunction with this guideline considering additional risks, hazards and controls and including environmental, facility, equipment and student considerations.​

For activities beyond the scope of this guideline, complete a CARA record using the CARA generic template.

Activity scope

This guideline relates to student participation in biological activities (e.g. studying animal tissues, live specimens, invertebrate organisms, microorganisms, plant material, fungi or tasting food samples grown in the school garden) to support curriculum delivery within, and external to, a science laboratory. This activity may also involve the use of a range of laboratory equipment, e.g. glassware, heating and digital equipment and chemicals.

Depending on the scope of this activity, other risk assessments may be required when planning. Curriculum activities encompassing more than one CARA guideline (e.g. marine organism activities when conducting fieldwork to investigate microorganisms) must comply with the requirements of all CARA guidelines appropriate to the activity.

For curriculum activities ​involving the introduction of agents or conditions that may contaminate food, consult the food expe​rimentation activity guideline.

For curriculum activities involving observing and handling animals and animal remains, consult the animal observation and handling activity guideline.

For curriculum activities involving observing and handling marine animals and organisms, consult the marine organism activities activity guideline.

For activities conducted at a non-Department of Education venue, and/or when engaging external expertise, request written risk assessment advice and attach it to this CARA record.

For activities conducted off-site, schools must comply with the ​school excursions procedure.

Low risk
Activities involving low risk equipment and non-hazardous biological material (e.g. pre-prepared microscope slides, pond water, silkworms, foodstuffs).
Medium risk
Activities involving medium risk equipment and hazardous substances (e.g. handling and dissecting animals procured as laboratory specimens, growing cultures under controlled circumstances according to established protocols).
High risk
Activities involving high risk equipment and materials (e.g. using unknown samples such as swabs from environmental samples, high levels of heat, very low temperature materials, high pressures or low, full vacuums, high-voltage electricity [static and/or current], radiation emitters, hazardous biological materials and high-speed mechanical and/or moving devices and objects).
Extreme​ risk
Activities involving extreme risk processes and materials (e.g. growing cultures in uncontrolled environments, handling and/or dissecting animals not procured as a laboratory specimen)​.

 Activity requirements

If any requirement cannot be met, the activity must not occur.

If any other safety recommendation cannot be met, modify the activity (or elements of it) and/or identify and use the hierarchy of controls to implement alternative control measures to meet or exceed the minimum safety standard.

The following activities are prohibited:

  • taking human blood samples or using human blood products
  • collecting samples from areas likely to pose risk of contamination by human pathogens including, but not limited to, human or animal body fluids, waste on toilets, carcasses, diseased tissue (plant or animal), hand basins, door handles, phones or computer keyboards
  • swabbing raw poultry or surfaces used to prepare raw poultry
  • sub-culturing swabs taken from food preparation surfaces
  • incubating body fluids or other tissues in broths, plates or cultures
  • incubating microbial cultures at temperatures higher than 30ºC.

Schools may sample human saliva, urine, cheek cell and/or DNA, however, students must only collect/handle their own samples.

All biological material is to be considered contaminated and potentially hazardous.

Schools must prevent and manage infection control in accordance with the infection control procedure and/or relevant Australian Standards (e.g. AS 2243.3—Safety in laboratories: Microbiological safety and containment). Utilise the infection control guideline for practical implementation advice.

Unfamiliar activities (e.g. from online sources) must be trialled without students to identify foreseeable hazards and plan safety processes. Do not proceed if risks of the activity outweigh educational outcomes.

Attach any additional information used to support student safety in the activity (e.g. resources from Australian Science Teachers Association, published experiments or online risk assessment tools) to the CARA record.


Parent consent (DOCX, 306KB) is required for all activities conducted off-site and for extreme risk activities conducted on-site. It is strongly recommended for high risk activities conducted on-site.​


Principals make final supervision decisions for the activity. Sufficient adult supervision must be provided to manage the activity safely (including emergency situations).

For activities with students with a medical condition or disability that may impact on safety during the activity, consultation with parents is required prior to allocating supervision to determine the impact of students' medical condition or disability on safety during the activity.

The number of adult supervisors required to fulfil emergency and supervision roles must consider the nature of the activity, students' ages, abilities and specialised learning, access and/or health needs.

Before the activity, all adult supervisors must be familiar with the contents of the CARA record.

During the activity, all adult supervisors:

  • must be readily identifiable
  • must closely monitor students with health support needs
  • must comply with control measures from the CARA record and adapt as hazards arise
  • must suspend the activity if the conditions become unfavourable (e.g. extreme temperatures).

Do not allow experiment products from the laboratory, e.g. reactant products, food products to be removed by students or taken home.

For high risk activities:

Closely supervise students during participation. It is recommended that teacher demonstration be used as the principal teaching strategy for high risk activities, with students remaining at a safe distance.

For extreme risk activities:

Individually supervise students during participation. It is recommended that teacher demonstration be used as the principal teaching strategy for extreme risk activities, with students remaining at a safe distance.

Supervisor qualifications

Principals make final decisions in determining supervisor capability (competence, relevance and currency) and are responsible for encouraging and enabling school-based activity supervisors to raise their qualifications to improve safety standards.

All adult supervisors must comply with the working with children authority—Blue Cards procedure and be able to identify, and respond to, risks or hazards that may emerge during the activity.

A registered teacher must be appointed to maintain overall responsibility for the activity.

At least one adult supervisor is required to be:

For low risk activities:

  • A registered teacher with knowledge of the activity and its potential hazards; or
  • An adult supervisor working under the direct supervision of a registered teacher, with competence (knowledge and skills) in the activity.

For medium risk activities:

  • A registered teacher with competence (knowledge and kills) in the activity and its potential hazards; or
  • An adult supervisor working under the direct supervision of a registered teacher, with competence (knowledge and skills) in the activity and its potential hazards.

For high and extreme risk activities:

  • A registered teacher with qualifications in science (or equivalent demonstrated capability) and with competence (knowledge and skills) in teaching the activity, the aseptic technique and waste management; or
  • An adult supervisor, working under the direct supervision of a registered teacher, with qualifications in science (or an equivalent qualification appropriate to the activity) and with competence (knowledge and skills) and experience in the activity, the aseptic technique and waste management.

Facilities and equipment

The qualified adult supervisor of the activity, in consultation with the principal, determines the requirements for facilities and equipment appropriate to the local context.

Consult chemicals in curriculum activities for support in assessing the risks of chemicals used with/by students in curriculum activities.

If a CARA record is required in OneSchool, a summary of chemicals, plant, equipment and/or materials used in the activity must be provided by entering directly onto the CARA record in OneSchool or by attaching a summary. Sample templates are provided on chemicals in curriculum activities and plant, equipment and materials in curriculum activities.

Location must be suitable for the activity being undertaken, including sufficient space, adequate lighting and ventilation to ensure safe participation and that safety rules and procedures can be followed. This may be in a specialised facility (e.g. laboratory) or other suitable location (e.g. school stockyard). Undertake a reconnaissance of new or infrequently used locations to ascertain suitability.

All emergency equipment and processes (e.g. shut-off switches, eye wash unit) must be functional.

Schools must source biological specimens (e.g. animals bred for scientific purposes) from commercial suppliers.

Schools must maintain, store, transport and dispose of biological material appropriately (e.g. use SDS and clinical and related waste guideline). Such materials include, but are not limited to, live animals (e.g. silkworms, fish), biological material (e.g. specimens, manure, foodstuffs), wastes (e.g. paper towel, gloves) and used instruments (e.g. dissection boards, probes). Comply with animals in Queensland state schools requirements when handling live animals.

Participants must wear personal protective equipment including non-porous enclosed footwear and apron/coat. Other personal protective equipment appropriate to the activity may include lab standard eye protection, gloves, appropriate face protection (e.g. mask to protect against airborne organisms in potting mix).

First aid equipment and consumables, as required.

Equipment and tools must be well-maintained, transported safely (e.g. using a protective cover) and stored appropriately. Conduct a visual inspection of equipment (including portable electrical equipment) to identify damage and remove from use.

Clean up equipment as necessary e.g. dustpan, breakages bin, spill kit, disinfectants for microorganisms.

In addition to the above, for high or extreme risk level activities:

  • Activities must take place in a laboratory with accessible and functional safety features, e.g. appropriate physical containment conditions and safety precautions per Australian Standards (AS2243.3).
  • All high and extreme risk biological resources and equipment must be clearly labelled according to the safe operating procedure (SOP) or safety data sheet (SDS) requirements from the supplier.

 Hazards and controls

Further to those listed, include any additional hazards and control measures considering the local context of the activity.

Environmental hazards Control measures

Animal bites/stings

If participating outside:

Respond appropriately to approaching wildlife.

Use insect repellent, as outlined in insect viruses and allergies.

Biological material

Avoid contact with plant and animal material (e.g. saps, tissue matter). Include protection and handling processes with student safety procedures (e.g. rinsing equipment after use).

Use only the smallest quantity of biological material that will guarantee the viability of the experiment.

If swabs are taken from food preparation surfaces, keep petri dishes closed to reduce the risk of transmission of foodborne illness (e.g. Salmonella and E.coli).

Wash hands and other contaminated areas of the body with soap and water before leaving the activity site.

Sterilise biological material (e.g. microbial, genetic, enzymatic) and tools appropriately before disposal. Note: If unsure, seek advice from an institution proficient in disposal techniques, such as a university.

Clean tools following use to reduce the risk of contamination or accidental exposure. Sterilise equipment in contact with microbial and genetically modified organisms.

Dispose of hazardous biological materials using a double-bagging technique.

Label and date all specimens and samples for storage. Refrigerate as necessary. Dispose within appropriate timeframes.

Environmental conditions

When participating outside:

Follow the school's sun safety strategy.

Assess weather (Bureau of Meteorology) and environmental conditions prior to participation.

Follow the managing excessive heat in schools guidelines when participating in very hot or extreme heat conditions.

Ensure drink breaks occur regularly. Make water available for individual participants between drink breaks.

Monitor participants for cold related illness (e.g. hypothermia) in cold weather conditions.

Facilities and equipment hazards
Control measures


Electrical or extension leads must not pose a tripping hazard. Secure (e.g. tape down) and cover for protection.

Consider the placement of technology devices (e.g. tablets, laptops) and the peripherals (e.g. cords, mouse) during activities to avoid contamination by chemical/biological materials or contact with water.

Faulty or dangerous equipment

Check equipment for damage before and during the activity.

Comply with control measures provided on the SOP or manufacturer's instructions. See the plant, equipment and materials in curriculum activities template for details of specific risk management practices.

Restrict student access to any equipment that requires thermal insulation (e.g. liquid nitrogen, incubator).

Hazardous chemicals

Comply with control measures for preparation, use and disposal of chemicals provided on the vendor SDS in the school Chemwatch manifest and/or safety instructions on the product label. See the chemicals in curriculum activities template for details of specific risk management practices for each Chemwatch hazard colour rating.

All chemicals required for the decontamination processes must be arranged in advance and be readily available.

Manage spills immediately.

Heat sources and radiation

Only appropriately-qualified adult supervisors may handle radiation sources and equipment (e.g. UV lamps). Establish and implement an exclusion zone away from equipment that may produce radiation.

Clearly sign/label equipment with hot surfaces and allow to cool before being returned to storage.

Manage heat sources and/or combustible substances safely. This includes, but is not limited to: keeping burners on low heat or orange flame while not directly in use, using small quantities of combustible substances only, keeping combustible or toxic substances away from naked flames and using appropriate water-bath techniques.


Dispose of waste according to established safety procedure as soon as possible after the activity.

Student considerations Control measures

Manual handing

Use correct manual handling processes when lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or carrying. Use aids for safe handling, lifting and carrying (e.g. guards, safety steps and mobile trolleys), as appropriate.

Student issues

Where individual experimental investigations are undertaken, students must have complete and appropriate procedures in place that identify and manage hazards associated with their activity.

Remove accessories (e.g. necklaces, lanyards) before participating.

Ensure fingernails and hair and clothing (e.g. long hair, loose shirts) do not interfere with the activity.

Monitor and enforce the correct use of equipment and materials and safe movement around the area.

Account for all equipment, chemicals and resources (e.g. matches, unused samples) after the activity.

In addition, for off-site activities:

Implement procedures (e.g. buddy system, roll marking mechanisms) to account for all participants.

Ensure staff can easily recognise those students with health support needs and are familiar with their needs when participating off-site.


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Last updated 13 July 2022