Working Safely with Animals

Occupational Health Program

United States Department of Agriculture and Public Health Service regulations require Ohio State to have an effective program for the care and use of animals involved in research. As part of that program, the regulations further require the university to have an effective occupational health and safety program for all individuals who handle animals or animal tissue. Participation in the university’s Occupational Health Program is thus mandatory for all faculty, staff, students, and volunteers who work in university laboratory animal facilities or conduct research with animals or animal tissues. The purpose and goal of the Occupational Health Program is to identify, evaluate, manage, and reduce potential health risks associated with the care and use of animals at the institution.

Potential Work-Related Health Problems

Laboratory animal allergies are a relatively common work-related condition occurring in laboratory animal workers. Sensitization often occurs in the first three years of employment. Risk factors include a personal or family history of atopy, other pre-existing non-work related allergies, and significant exposure to laboratory animals.

Acton, D., & McCauley, L. (2007). Laboratory animal allergy: An occupational hazard. American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, 55(6), 241-244.

Animal Biohazard Levels (A-BSL)
Work involving the exposure of animals with biological materials must be conducted at the appropriate containment level to ensure adequate protection of personnel and the environment. ULAR has housing available for biosafety levels 1 through 3. ULAR does not operate any level 4 housing. The following list summarizes the four animal biosafety levels.

  • A-BSL1: Well characterized agents that are not known to cause disease in healthy adult humans; poses minimal potential hazard to laboratory personnel and the environment.
  • A-BSL2: Agents associated with human disease; potential hazards from ingestion as well as percutaneous and mucous membrane exposure.
  • A-BSL3: Animals infected with indigenous or exotic agents; potential for aerosol transmission that could cause serious or potentially lethal disease. Animals must be housed in a dedicated A-BSL 3 area.
  • A-BSL4: Work with dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening disease (ULAR does not operate any A-BSL4 housing).

The Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) reviews all protocols involving recombinant DNA molecules, biohazards, and microorganisms that are pathogenic to humans, plants, and animals.

Waste Anesthetic Gases
Employers and employees should be aware of the potential effects of waste anesthetic gases and be advised to take appropriate precautions. Engineering controls, such as an appropriate anesthetic gas scavenging system (absorber and/or canister), are the first line of defense and the preferred method of control to protect employees from exposure to anesthetic gases. Canisters filled with activated charcoal must be used to scavenge excess gas. They should be discarded in the appropriate manner, as recommended by the manufacturer.

Visit the U.S. Department of Labor website for further information.

Zoonosis is any infectious disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans. Wild caught or pet quality rodents carry many diseases which not only may be a risk to humans, but also to the animals used in research which are generally considered free of disease.

For personnel who care for rodents at home, please ensure that they take precautions to minimize the risk of bringing contaminated fomites into the facility on their clothes, bags/purses, hands, shoes, etc.

Reporting Work-Related Health Problems/Injuries

If you receive an animal-related injury or suspect a health problem related to your work with animals, please follow the procedure outlined below.

  • Immediately notify your supervisor/designated charge person of the work-related accident or illness.
  • Fill out an Employee Accident Report. Fully complete the “Employee Information” and “Accident Information” sections, sign, and date the report. The report must be completed for every work-related accident or illness.
  • Give the completed form to your supervisor/charge person for signature.
  • Seek medical treatment. During normal business hours, visit the OSU Employee Health Services, 2100 Cramblett Hall (2A University Hospital Clinic Building), 456 West 10th Avenue, (614) 293-8146. After normal business hours or on weekends, seek treatment at the OSU Medical Center (emergency department) or University Hospital East (emergency department). Students should first seek treatment from Student Health Services, 1875 Milliking Road, (614) 292-4321.