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Health and Safety for Animal Workers


Potential Hazards and Exposures When Working with Animals

Physical Hazards

    mop bucket Housekeeping and Sanitation dust pan

    Good housekeeping practices and sanitation are the key to reducing the risk of physical hazard injuries.  It is important for you to keep work surfaces clean and clear of obstructions, waste, and other materials. All boxes, hoses, or bags of bedding material should be routinely removed from the work area. Mop floors and clean work surfaces with the appropriate cleaning and disinfectant solutions.  Keep in mind that poor housekeeping is unprofessional and will increase your risk of accidents and injury.

    Bites and Scratches

    The hazard of animal bites and scratches is associated with animal and contaminated equipment contact and is best avoided by patient handling techniques and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).  Knowledge of animal behavior and how animals respond to their immediate physical environment is important in reducing risk of injury.

    Animals respond to sights, sounds, and smells as people do, but they also hear, smell, and react to things that people do not detect.  For example, if an animal hears a high-pitched sound, it may become frightened and react defensively.  Many animals have a flight zone, and if approached by another animal or you as the handler, the affected animal may try to escape.  Unsuccessful escape may cause the animal to act aggressively.  Of course, inappropriate handling of an animal can cause discomfort, pain, and distress and provoke an animal to bite or scratch.

    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.

    Scratches, scraps, and injuries from 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.
    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 record the injury in the bite and scratch log located in your animal facility.  Contact Employee Health at McCosh Health Center for medical consultation or treatment.  bite log



    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.  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.  Chemical properties may include flammability, corrosiveness, reactivity, or the potential to be explosive.  Potentially hazardous chemicals used in animal laboratories include solvents (xylene, acetone, dimethyl sulfoxide), acids (hydrochloric, sulfuric), bases (sodium hydroxide, quaternary disinfectants), fixatives (formaldehyde, osmium tetroxide), sterilants (peracetic acid, chlorine dioxide, peroxides, gluteraldehyde), and anesthetics (isoflurane, tribromoethanol, methane sulfonate, nitrous oxide, urethane, barbiturates).  Each chemical product should be handled carefully using the label directions, the recommended PPE, and in accordance with University guidelines and lab training.  Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are also available in the lab on all chemical products used.  These provide additional information on the hazards and precautions related to a chemicalís use.  Be certain that you understand the proper use of the chemical material before you use it.

Biological Hazards

    biohazardMost animals used in research are bred specifically for that purpose and do not have the potential for transmitting the kinds of illness organisms that those in the wild do.  But there are some illnesses and infections (zoonoses) that can be passed from animals to people, and these will be discussed in more detail later in this training.

    With research animals, biological hazards are of most concern when the animals are naturally infected (as monkeys can be with Simian B virus) or if animals are infected with a bacteria or virus as part of the experimental work.  Under these conditions and when doing field research with wild species, it is of most critical importance that appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and other appropriate protective measures be used to prevent infection.

    Animal Biosafety Levels

    If research animals are infected with bacteria or viruses as part of the experiments being done or are naturally infected, there must be consideration of what risk there is of exposure to people and, if there is a risk, how it will be controlled.

    There are four levels of control, known as Animal Biosafety Levels (ABSL) 1 thru 4 that provide increasing levels of protection to those working with these animals. Each level has recommendations for practices, safety measures, and facility design that will control the particular level of biological hazard involved.  ABSL1 is for animal work with little or no hazard to humans while ABSL4 are measures put in place to prevent exposure to highly infectious and life-threatening biological agents in the research animal.

    In animal facilities at Princeton University, there is no animal research done with highly infectious or exotic biological agents. The only present work with experimentally-infected animals involves mice and rats injected with viruses that have limited or no potential for human infection.  This work is done in a special animal facility in Molecular Biology which meets ABSL 2.


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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 milti-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 Controlled Substances Act (Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of1970) places all substances regulated by Federal law into one of five schedules or categories based on the medicinal value and the potential for abuse. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), part of the U.S. Department of Justice, has control and enforcement authority for controlled substances.  Several of the drugs used for medical treatment, anesthesia, analgesia, and euthanasia are considered controlled substances. In order to legally purchase, use, dispense, and dispose of these drugs either personal or institutional license must be obtained from the DEA.  Table 1 shows the five different schedules of controlled substances with schedule 5 being the least restrictive.

Table 1:

Potential for Abuse Medical Use Examples: Medical Use Examples:
Schedule 1  High None Heroin
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
Schedule 2  High Some, with sever restrictions Fentanyl
Schedule 3  Less than 1 or 2  Currently accepted medical use  Nalorphine
Ketamine Hydrocholoride
Schedule 4  Low Currently accepted medical use  Chloral Hydrate
Schedule 5  Lower than 4  Currently accepted medical use  Codeine

The PI of the laboratory will be responsible for all controlled drug use in the laboratory. Depending on the departmental affiliation of the PI, the PI or department must maintain appropriate DEA licensing documents for the acquisition and use of controlled drugs. These documents are subject to inspection, at any time, by DEA agents, Princeton IACUC, and Princeton Attending Veterinarian.

Acquisition of controlled drugs requires approval by the Departmental Safety Representative prior to forwarding requisition to the Princeton purchasing department. Without this approval the purchasing department has been instructed to return these requisitions.

The laboratory must maintain a logbook of each quantity of controlled drugs that are (1) in possession and yet to be used (2) in current use, or (3) have been completely used and/or properly disposed. Typically, the logbook maintains acquisition/purchasing records, use records that are detailed to indicate each withdrawal from the vial, the animal patient on which it was used, and the method/quantity that was disposed. This provides a legally defensible paper trail for the controlled drug while it was in the responsible PIís possession. Without this logbook, there would be no record of the drugís proper vs. improper use.

The laboratory must use good practices when using and storing controlled drugs. For example, controlled drugs must always be secured by double locking mechanism when not in use. Drugs must not be left unattended on the counter-tops and/or lab benches. Dilutions of the stock drug concentration must also be secured and never left unattended, especially when disposing that small amount left at the end of the days work. Controlled and non-controlled drugs must never be used after their expiration date. Expired drugs must be secured away from the regular drug inventory and not allowed to be put back into use while awaiting disposal. Periodic inspections by the Princeton IACUC, Attending Veterinarian specifically look for both expired and unsecured controlled drugs. Citation for this deficiency is easily prevented and impossible to defend to your administrative official.

The disposal of excess and/or expired controlled drugs must be coordinated with Princeton EHS. This should rarely occur since we expect the acquisition and subsequent storage of controlled drugs on campus is the minimum necessary to conduct the research project. Large quantities of these drugs are costly and have a higher potential to be either lost or stolen from the laboratory.


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