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Health and Safety for Animal Workers


Potential Hazards and Exposures When Working with Animals

    biohazard symbol Chemical Hazard Symbol radiation symbol

    Bites and Scratches

    All animal bites and scratches must be treated by washing with clean water and soap and reported to your respective supervisor and to Employee Health. Special procedures for response to macaque bites and scratches are described in the Zoonoses section of this program.

    Scratches, scrapes, and injuries from soiled or contaminated equipment associated with animal care and housing, such as cages, can be as great a risk as direct animal contact and should be addressed similarly.

    Animal bites and scratches that cause minor skin damage are sometimes disregarded by animal workers who are unfamiliar with a number of diseases that can be spread by such injuries. You should keep in mind that even minor bites and/or scratches can result in infections and illnesses if they are not properly treated.
    The most important thing you can do to prevent infection following any bite, scratch, (or puncture from sharps exposure as discussed below) is to immediately and thoroughly wash the injury with soap and water.  Inform your supervisor and contact Employee Health at McCosh Health Center for medical consultation or treatment. 


    syringe disposal

    Another physical hazard is exposure to sharps.  Sharps such as needles, broken glass, syringes, pipettes, and scalpels are all commonly found in animal facilities and laboratories.  You should use extra care to avoid inadvertent contact and injury. Recapping of needles, a common cause of needlesticks, is prohibited at Princeton Univeristy.

    Needlestick injuries represent substantial risk for you to become infected especially when injecting animals with microbial agents or drawing blood.

    Your lab should have puncture-resistant and leak proof containers for disposal of sharps.  To prevent needle sticks, it is critical that you always place used needles directly in to the sharps container without recapping or any attempt to bend, shear, break, or remove the needle from the syringe. container

    lift bag
    Lifting and Handling Heavy Loads
    lift waste

    Animal care operations involve a number of activities that can cause physical stress when handling and moving heavy loads.  The use of proper lifting techniques can help prevent injuries to your back and shoulders when moving cages, bags of feed and bedding, pieces of equipment, and supplies. Poor physical fitness, obesity, poor posture, smoking, and medical/physical deficiencies are personal factors that may contribute to back pain.  When lifting heavy loads, you should avoid sudden movements and use a two-handed lifting technique.  Keep your back straight, feet positioned apart with one slightly ahead of the other, and knees bent as the lift is completed.  Reduce loads where possible and get help when lifting awkward loads or those that cannot be handled safely by one person.

Chemical Hazards

    chemicalThose involved in the care and use of research animals must be familiar with the chemical hazards associated with the animal care and laboratory environment. 

    Activities such as perfusions which involve the use of formalin solution or administration of halogenated anesthetics such as isoflurane all pose the potential for overexposure to hazardous chemicals. Additionally, some animal research protocols involve the preparation and injection of hazardous drugs, such as chemotherapy agents, biological toxins or other acutely toxic chemicals, into animals.

    Staff from EHS are available to help assess your risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals, but a few general rules apply:

  • All research staff who work in laboratories must attend Laboratory Safety training, provided by EHS. This training program provides an overview of the safe storage, handling and disposal procedures for hazardous chemicals.
  • When conducting perfusions or administering halogenated anesthetics, such as isoflorane, always work at a ventilated downdraft table, in a chemical fume hood, a fully exhausted biosafety cabinet (available in the procedure rooms of the PNI rodent housing facilities) or work under a point source exhaust (snorkel ventilation) in the laboratory.
  • EHS has established guidelines for minimizing exposure when administering hazardous chemicals to animals. Guidelines can be found on the EHS and Research Integrity and Assurance websites.
  • If your research protocol involves injection of a hazardous drug into an animal, you are responsible for:
    • notifying EHS and LAR prior to start of injections
    • labeling the animal cage with chemical hazard labels, available from LAR
    • placing a chemical hazard sign, available from EHS, at the entrance to the animal housing room

Biological Hazards

    biohazard Administration of recombinant and synthetic nucleic acid molecules, microorganisms and viruses to animals requires prior approval from both the Institutional Biological Safety Commitee (IBC) and the IACUC.

    There are four levels of containment, known as Animal Biosafety Levels (ABSL) that provide increasing levels of protection when working with biohazards. Each level has recommendations for practices, safety measures, and facility design that will control the biological hazard involved. The levels range from ABSL 1 to ABSL 4. Princeton University does not have facilities to accommodate ABSL 3 or 4 research.

    ABSL 1 containment is for animals exposed to materials that are not known to consistently casue diseases in healthy adults. Standard animal care and management practices, use of standard PPE required to enter the animal facility, hand washing and standard animal housing and procedure rooms are required.

    ABSL 2 containment is for animals exposed to agents associated with human disease that pose a hazard through percutaneous injury, ingestion or mucous membrane exposure. Biohazard warning signs must be posted, potentially contaminated waste must be autoclaved or disposed of through the regulated medical waste stream, airflow into housing rooms should be negative, hand washing sink is available, containment equipment, such as biosafety cabinets, for changing soiled cages, is available. Additional PPE, other than that required to enter the facility may be recommended. Since percutaneous injuries are a primary concern with BSL 2 materials, the use of sharps must be evaluated and eliminated if possible.

    If your research protocol involves administration of a biohazard into an animal, you are responsible for:

    • notifying EHS and LAR prior to start of research with biohazards
    • labeling the animal cage with biohazard labels, available from LAR
    • placing a biohazard sign, available from EHS, at the entrance to the animal housing room
    • conducting the research in accordance with the IBC's containment recommendations.

Radiation Hazards

The administration of radioisotopes to animals and the use of energized equipment such as X-ray machines, is overseen by the University's Radiation Safety Committee and monitored by the Radiation Safety Officer. Research with radioisotopes or energized equipment may not begin until you have permission from the Radiation Safety Officer.

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Antibiotics and Controlled Substances


Antibiotic Use

When using antibiotic materials, procedures should be adopted that minimize release os airborne materials and skin contamination. Of particular concern are releases of penicillin-type (or other) antibiotics during syringe-loading from multi-dose vials. Persons who have had previous exposures and have developed sensitivity can quickly go into anaphylactic shock after inhaling a mist of antibiotic material. Be sure to handle these materials with caution and according to use directions. Use and caution inserts for each antibiotic are provided in the product packaging and should be read and understood prior to use.

Controlled Substances

The purchase, use and disposal of controlled substances in New Jersey are strictly regulated by the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs and the United States Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (NJDEA). These regulations are intended to prevent diversion of controlled substances.

Environmental Health and Safety holds the responsabilty to ensure that researchers planning work with controlled substances are aware of and understand their responsibility for complying with the relevant state and federal statutes and regulations governing the use of these substances whether for veterinary care and laboratory research applications.

Approval for Controlled Substance Use at Princeton

Researchers may request authorization to use controlled substances by applying to EHS. Once the application is reviewed and approved, EHS will add the approved principal investigator to the Controlled Dangerous Substances Inventory System as an approved CDS user and indicate each substance for which the lab has been approved.


Controlled substances must be stored in substantially constructed, double-locking boxes that have been mounted on a wall or bolted into a laboratory bench drawer. Locked drawers alone do not provide adequate security for storge of controlled substances.

Detailed instructions for recordkeeping are available on the EHS website. It is the Principal Investigator's responsibility to maintain complete and accurate inventory records for all controlled substances. The records must be kept separately from other documents, in the primary work area and be available for inspection during regular work hours.

Controlled Substance Receipt Records must be maintained for each controlled substance.

Use of Controlled Substances

  • A separate and current record (Controlled Substance Use Form) for the storage and use of each controlled substance (use meaning to administer, dispense, professionally use, or otherwise dispose of) must be kept for each separate container.
  • The Controlled Substance Use Form indicates the Principal Investigator name,date, building and room, unique identification number assigned, type, strength and quantity of each controlled substance container.
  • Laboratory staff must note starting volume or mass of substance in the container and each subsequent use.
  • Each record of use must be initialed by the person working with the controlled substance.
  • When container is empty, a copy of the usage log should be emailed to EHS.

Managing Expired Controlled Substances

  • The Researcher is responsible for notifying EHS of expired controlled substances. Upon receipt of this notification, EHS schedules a drug destruction, to be witnessed by a Department of Public Safety (DPS) commissioned police officer. Drug destruction is scheduled as soon as a DPS commissioned police officer is available. For Schedule II drugs, destruction is scheduled upon receipt of permission and written authorization from NJ Department of Consumer Affairs.
  • Expired drugs shall be marked by the researcher as follows:
    • Expired – Do Not Use
    • Date that drug was labeled as expired
    • Initials of person labeling drug as expired.
  • Expired drug shall be placed into a sealable plastic bag. Bag shall also be labeled as “Expired – Do Not Use”, with a date.
  • Labeled, sealed bag must be placed into the laboratory’s locked controlled substance box.
  • Upon destruction of expired drug, researcher documents date of destruction on the Controlled Substance Usage Log. The Usage Log and the drug vial contain the same unique number, assigned upon receipt of the controlled substance by EHS.
  • A copy of the controlled substance usage log reflecting destruction date is submitted by the researcher to EHS. EHS then removes the drug from our electronic inventory.




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