Personnel in medical, veterinary or research laboratories may be exposed to a wide variety of pathogens that range from deadly to debilitating. For some of these pathogens, no treatment is available, and in other cases the treatment does not fully control the disease. It is important that personnel in laboratories that process human or microbiological specimens follow universal precautions when handling tissues, cells, or microbiological specimens owing to the increasing numbers of individuals infected with hepatitis C and HIV in the US and the possibility that an individual may be asymptomatic when a specimen is obtained. Similar precautions must be followed in laboratories that use animal tissues owing to the possibility of exposure to agents that are pathogenic in humans. Personnel with conditions associated with immunosuppression should evaluate carefully whether or not specific laboratory environments put them at increased risk of disease. We offer here some general approaches to identifying biohazards and to minimizing the potential risk of exposure. The issues discussed can be used to develop a general safety program as required by regulatory or accrediting agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.