ABC of Safety in the Biological Sciences




Animal house staff face two unique hazards:

  • Injuries inflicted directly by tooth or claw of their charges.
  • Disease through exposure to pathogenic organisms carried by the animals, alive or dead, their excreta, discharges, soiled bedding, food wastes and spilt water.

General Precautions

  • Staff who are pregnant should not be permitted to work with cats as cats can be carriers of toxoplasma, which can produce serious disease in the foetus.
  • Staff who are pregnant should not work with anaesthetic gases.
  • Persons with histories of cutaneous or respiratory allergies are especially vulnerable to animals and it is doubtful whether they should be employed in an animal house.
  • All staff who handle animals are advised to have an annual dose of tetanus toxoid.
  • Staff who regularly handle non­human primates should have regular checks for tuberculosis.
  • Monkey bites may transmit herpes B virus which is known to cause encephalitis in humans.
  • Psittacosis may be transmitted by a wide variety of birds including domestic poultry. All sick or dead birds should be regarded as potentially infected until a post­mortem has determined the cause of death.
  • Ectoparasites and fungal infections of the skin are common in laboratory animals and may be transferred to animal handlers directly or indirectly; e.g. cats commonly harbour ringworm fungi on their coats without discernible lesions, various species of Australian wildlife may carry ticks, of which the most important, Ixodes holocyclus, is capable of causing paralysis in man.
  • Infection with enteric organisms, e.g. Shigella from primates and Salmonella from other species. Echinococcus and Toxocara are passed in dog faeces and can cause hydatids or visceral larva migrans in humans.
  • Other diseases which may be encountered from contact with infected urine or placental material from farm livestock are:
    • Brucellosis: contact with aborted foetuses or placentas and vaginal discharge of cattle or pigs.
    • Vibriosis: ingestion of infected water, food, milk or meat.
    • Leptospirosis: contact with infected urine through open cuts or abrasions.
    • Q fever: contact with infected placenta.
  • Avoid aerosol formation generated by splashing urine or using hoses vigorously.
  • Use biological safety cabinets for the examination of animal material and for autopsies of small animals. Laminar flow hoods DO NOT offer sufficient protection to the operator.
  • Handle inoculants with care. If a needle puncture injury occurs with an inoculant immediately seek advice as to any associated hazard.
  • Only authorised personnel should be allowed entry to the animal house.
  • Animal house staff should always work in pairs and should never go alone into a room housing primates.
  • A post­mortem examination should be carried out by a competent person on each animal that dies unexpectedly, in order to establish the cause of death and the possibility of danger to other animals or staff.
  • ALWAYS wear protective clothing which should include full coverage of the body, gloves, cap, boots and face mask when appropriate. A full face shield should be worn when handling primates. Protective clothing protects the wearer from pathogenic organisms and it decreases the effect of a direct attack by an animal.

Animal Related Injuries
All animals, if sufficiently provoked, will make their displeasure felt. The risk of incurring an injury from an animal can be minimised by :

  • Wearing appropriate protective clothing and especially gloves. The clothing may range from a laboratory coat to a full change of clothing, including mask, cap and gloves and overshoes dependent upon the hazard.
  • Handling the animal in a manner which will not hurt or frighten it. Treat animals with kindness and consideration and you will be rewarded with their trust.
  • Providing and using properly designed and maintained equipment to restrain the animals.
  • Using sedative drugs where appropriate.

Any bite, scratch or cut, however trivial, received in an animal house must get immediate treatment. Clean the affected area and cover it. See medical advice if there is any doubt at all about the state of health of the animal. Make a record of the nature of the injury and the steps taken to treat the injury.


  • Building ­ should be kept clean, tidy and in good repair. Animal rooms, corridors, storage and service areas should be swept, washed and disinfected as often as necessary to keep them clean and free from harmful contamination.
  • Wastes ­ must be collected and disposed of in a sanitary manner. Containers should be leak-proof and have tight fitting lids. Removal of waste must be on a regular basis and the storage area for waste containers prior to removal should be separate form the main building and free from vermin. If possible incinerate all waste and especially animal carcasses.
  • Pest control ­ an efficient pest control programme is essential for the effective control of flies, cockroaches, rodents and other pests. Care is needed in the use of pesticides to avoid danger to animals or staff.
  • Personal hygiene ­ is of the utmost importance in controlling the possibility of infection in staff. Ready access to showers and toilet facilities and clean protective clothing is essential. There should be adequate storage facilities for street clothes. A programme for regular medical checks for the presence of communicable diseases between animals and humans is recommended. Never eat, drink, smoke or apply cosmetics in animal rooms, there should be provided a separate staff room for these purposes. Do not wear protective clothing outside the animal facility. Wash your hands frequently, always before entering an animal room and always after leaving an animal room.

Physical Hazards
All staff should be aware of the dangers with regard to electricity, toxic or corrosive chemicals and heat. They should also ensure that they are fully aware of the safety requirements with regard to ionising radiation, especially if experiments are being conducted on animals using radioactive isotopes. Animals used for experiments using radioactive isotopes should be humanely destroyed after the experiment and the carcass should be incinerated. The ash should be collected and stored in a safe container until any danger from the isotope has passed. The incinerator will need to be checked for radioactivity before any maintenance is carried out.

UFAW Staff (1976)
The UFAW Handbook on the Care and Management of Laboratory Animals. 5th edition 1976. E. and S. Livingstone, London.

National Health and Medical Research Council (1985)
Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Experimental Purposes.
Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, Australia.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1985)
Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Public Health Service, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20205, U.S.A.



BACK to the top of the Glossary Contents List
BACK to the top of the Chemical Contents List