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Occupational health for animal care activities

General Statement of Policy

Individuals involved in certain research  activities are given protection from health risks through the following mechanisms: (1) education and training, (2) isolation and containment of high risk activities, (3) evaluation of health status prior to exposure, (4) periodic health assessment, (5) provision of emergency health care, (6) administration of immunization or other prophylaxis for protection from specific risks, (7) exclusion of unauthorized persons from research facilities, (8) exclusion of persons with active infectious diseases that are hazardous to fellow workers or to animals, (9) use of appropriate apparel, equipment, and facilities, (10) veterinary management of animal health, and (11) maintenance of records of illnesses, occupational diseases and injuries.

This policy requires confidentiality in the handling of medical information. Individuals required to undergo any medical examinations, treatment, or monitoring must be fully informed of the associated benefits and risks.
The services are to be provided at no cost to the individual. All activities related to this program are to be available during normal working hours.

Education and Training

Persons working in research facilities should be fully informed as to the nature of possible risks associated with proposed duties. It is the responsibility of each laboratory director to inform research personnel of the specific risks involved and the applicable safety procedures. Training in the principles of radiation and Workplace Hazardous materials Information System (WHMIS) are the responsibility of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS).

The University Laboratory Safety Committee is mandated to develop protocols for research activities involving biohazards.

The University Animal Care Committee is responsible for verifying that those conducting research with animals are duly qualified.

Animal Care

Activities involving the care and use of animals in research and teaching pose particular health risks not normally encountered in other activities. The magnitude of risk is dependent on (1) the nature of contact (direct or indirect) with animals, their tissues, excreta, body fluids, hair, animal cages, dander and (2) the species involved.
In recognition of its responsibility to provide a safe working environment, the University has adopted this policy for protection of faculty, staff, and students from health risks which may result from working with animals or working in animal care activities.

  1. Protection of individuals from hazards associated with animal care and use.
  2. Ensuring that individuals are thoroughly informed of the risks associated with their work.
  3. Provision of preventative medical services and delivery of prompt and adequate medical care and advice.
  4. Rehabilitation of employees whose health has been compromised due to occupational exposures.
  5. Ensuring that individuals are physically able to perform their assigned tasks without undue risk to themselves or fellow workers.
  6. Protection of animals from diseases they may contract from humans.

Personal Hygiene

Persons working with animals are required to maintain a high standard for personal cleanliness to reduce the risk of contracting diseases transmitted by animals. It is essential that facilities and supplies for meeting this obligation be provided. Clothing suitable for use in an animal facility are to be worn by all persons coming into contact with animals. For animal care staff, the clothing should be separate from that worn outside the animal facility and should be supplied and laundered by the institution. Clothing exposed to potentially hazardous microbial agents or toxic substances is to be decontaminated prior to leaving the premises for laundering. Disposable gear, such as gloves, masks, head covers, coats, coveralls, and shoe covers should be used where appropriate. Hands should be routinely washed after handling animals or cage accessories to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

Clothing should be changed as often as is necessary to maintain personal hygiene. Outer garments worn in animal rooms should not be worn outside the animal facility. Washing and showering facilities appropriate to the program are to be made available.

Provision of advice on specific procedures to be followed is the responsibility of the University Animal Care Officer in conjunction with the unit director or principal investigator.

Eating, drinking, smoking, or application of cosmetics in animal rooms are not permitted.

Medical Care Elements of Program

This section is applicable to routine health surveillance activities involving animal care and use. Animal bites or other accidents involving animals are not covered in this section and should be considered for emergency treatment.


Direct Contact

Indirect Contact

Non-Human Primates



Non-Domestic Mammals



Farm Mammals



Rodents and Rabbits






Domestic Birds



Non-Domestic Birds











Pre-placement assessment: medical history questionnaire and (if clinically indicated), medical examination.


Tetanus immunization (if not already up to date). Booster every ten years.


Pre-placement rabies immunization. Follow-up antibody titer biannually. Immunization repeated as required.


Pre-placement and annual TB test. X-ray if positive.


Serum banking (if recommended by physician). To be used as a reference sample only for detection of diseases related to work with animals.


Same as 5. Refers only to rodents from non-commercial sources, or rodents used for transplantable tumours.


Biannual medical evaluations. Review of health status (questionnaire). Examinations/Tests performed according to symptoms/history/exposure.

"Direct Contact" refers to those handling live animals, unpreserved tissues or body fluids, animal cages, cage accessories, animal waste or carcasses.

"Indirect Contact" refers to those who work in areas where animals are used or housed. These people are potentially exposed by means of accidental contact or aerosols.

Laser Use

A baseline eye exam is a mandatory medical pre-assessment for faculty, staff and students prior to laser work with Class 3b and Class 4 lasers. The examination is offered as a bi-annual clinic organized by the Environmental Health and Safety Office.

This type of eye exam establishes a baseline against which ocular damage related to laser activities can be assessed. The purpose of the testing is to protect faculty, staff and students in the event of an actual or suspected accidental laser injury. Also, the exam allows identification of certain workers who might be vulnerable to chronic exposure to certain continuous emission lasers. Early detection of biological changes or damage would make active intervention possible to stop further biological damage or to allow recovery from biological effects.

More details on Laser Safety are available on the EHS web site. www.mcgill.ca/ehs