Occupational Health

Projects often include the use of hazardous material. Such agents as carcinogens, transplantable tumours, radioactive isotopes, toxic chemicals and infectious material require that warnings and precautions to protect both animals and personnel be included in the project and described in detail in the biohazard section of the animal use protocol. The investigator must find out about the potential hazard of the agent he/she will be using and the ways to protect the animal users, clean the equipment and spills and how to handle animal waste.



Guidelines for working with biohazards (e.g., bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and other infectious agents), are provided in the Public Health Agency of Canada 's Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines. The guidelines include such items as biohazard containment, laboratory design, personal hygiene and safety facilities, and can be used to provide training for employees as mandated by WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Material Information System).

The biosafety guidelines apply to all research carried out or supported by the federal government and have been adopted by many industries.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) based on the guidelines, aimed at minimizing risks to humans in biohazard risk areas, have been developed and are enforced. The SOPs can be found on SOPs section of this website.

Personal cleanliness is an important barrier to infection and washing of hands after handling any animal will reduce the risk of disease spread and self-infection. All employees working with animals, as well as visitors to the facility, should wear protective clothing, minimally a lab coat. By the way, no visitor is allowed unless approval is given by the chair of the UACC. Contact McGill University’s Media Relations Office.

All contaminated material must be decontaminated before disposal. Necropsy of animals infected with highly infectious agents should be carried out in certified and tested biological safety cabinets. Necropsy material for disposal should be sealed in plastic bags, properly labeled and incinerated. The necropsy room should be properly equipped to provide adequate refrigeration and hand-washing facilities.



Physical injuries related to the handling of animals may be kept to a minimum by ensuring that:

  1. everyone is trained and experienced in handling the species with which he works, and that he knows the particular hazards associated with each species;
  2. everyone is familiar with the hazards of the experiment, and is provided with (and use) a proper working area, protective clothing and equipment;
  3. a mechanism is in place in every unit to deal with animal-inflicted injury, and for referral for any further medical treatment if this is required.

Responsibility for ensuring that first aid kit(s) are available and always properly stocked must be clearly identified. The location of the first aid kit(s) should be prominently marked and all personnel using the facility should be made aware of these locations.

Injuries from chemicals can be avoided by treating all chemicals with care, by knowing their properties and adhering to the accepted safety practices for handling that type of product. WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Material Information System), legislative and institutional requirements must be met.

Care should always be taken in handling such common chemicals as industrial detergents used in cage washers, cleaning agents, and powerful disinfectants. These substances should be stored separate from animal feed and bedding materials. Volatile liquids used as anesthetics or for euthanasia, and other toxic and volatile materials, should be stored in well-ventilated fume hoods or cabinets designed for that purpose.

Within 24 hours of an incident, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO COMPLETE AN ACCIDENT REPORT FORM. For McGill, this form can be downloaded from the Environmental Safety Office’s Website. This 2 page form will document the incident (in case the information is needed later) and measures can be taken to avoid recurrence.

Disposal of animal carcasses entire or not, is done in a specific way. Containers, site of disposal, day and time of pick up, labeling, inclusion of other hazards (such as radiation) are important to know. The SOP for your animal facility and the protocol of the project should be carefully read and procedures followed. Any deviance must receive approval beforehand.


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, McGill 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. Please see the Occupational Health Program website.


  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.

General Statement of Policy

  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 animal 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 with animals or in animal 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 procedures.

Training in the principles of radiation and chemical safety is the responsibility of the local Environmental Safety Office.

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.



Species Direct Contact Indirect Contact

Non-Human Primates



Non-Domestic Mammals



Farm Mammals except Sheep






Rodents and Rabbits






Domestic Birds



Non-Domestic Birds










  1. Pre-placement assessment: medical history questionnaire and (if clinically indicated), medical examination.
  2. Tetanus immunization (if not already up to date). Booster every ten years.
  3. Selective pre-placement rabies immunization. Repeated as required.
  4. Pre-placement PPD skin testing (2-step).
  5. Hepatitis A vaccination; booster at 1 year follow-up
  6. Q fever immunization


"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.

N.B. This table is presently undergoing review



McGILL UNIVERSITY NON-HOSPITAL-RESEARCH-INSTITUTE members may apply to the Occupational Health Program for Animal Related Activities by going to the Environmental Health and Safety website.



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 unit director or principal investigator.

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



Infections that are secondarily transmitted from animals to humans are referred to as zoonoses and can seriously affect personnel and their research.

While most infectious agents show a considerable degree of species specificity, they also may, from time to time, vary widely in virulence and in their capacity to break through species barriers. Thus, infections that have not commonly been considered to be zoonotic hazards may sporadically affect susceptible persons or animals. Persons potentially at higher risk are those who suffer from defective immune systems and those who are under severe stress or who have non-overt clinical disease. Numerous pathogenic microorganisms, such as those responsible for tuberculosis, brucellosis, rabies, etc., which are normally perpetuated by direct transmission from one or more species of vertebrate animals, are also readily transmissible to humans.

Transmission of infections from animals to humans can generally be avoided through proper veterinary care and adherence to SOPs for control of transmission. However, when animals are obtained from areas in which zoonotic diseases are known to exist, e.g., in NHP (Non-Human Primate) acquired from the wild, special attention is required. Work involving exposure to hazardous microorganisms might require prior immunization of the staff, if a vaccine is available.

Caution should be exercised in assigning women of childbearing status to animal care duties that might expose them to potential or known teratogens. For example Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan that infects most species of warm-blooded animals, including humans, is spread primarily by oocysts shed in cat feces. These oocysts sporulate in two to four days and may survive for more than a year. Human toxoplasmosis can result in spontaneous abortion, prematurity, stillbirth or congenital defects.

The life cycle of the causative organisms implicated in a number of indirect zoonoses may involve transmission through one or more other vertebrate and/or invertebrate intermediate hosts before affecting humans (for example, in taeniasis, tularemia, and vesicular stomatitis). Amongst invertebrate vectors of zoonotic disease, the biting insects are the main offenders. A list of some of the diseases transmitted to humans from animals can be found in section "12- Biological Hazards of Working with Experimental Animals " http://www.ccac.ca/en_/training/niaut/stream/cs-ohs.

The role of cold-blooded vertebrates in the epidemiology of zoonoses should not be overlooked. In particular, turtles infected with salmonella may constitute a human health hazard in the student laboratory as well as in the animal facility.



Allergies to laboratory animals are a significant occupational health concern for people regularly working with the common laboratory animal species. Laboratory animal allergy (LAA) is an immediate-type hypersensitivity reaction, IgE-mediated, which develops upon exposure to a laboratory animal, its fur or dander, its urine, saliva, serum or other body tissues. Typical symptoms range from mild (e.g., upper respiratory signs such as sneezing, itchy and/or runny nose and eyes, and skin reactions such as red, raised and itchy wheals after contact with animals, their tissues or their excreta), to severe [e.g., wheezing, shortness of breath, and a feeling of chest tightness (asthma)]. Persons experiencing such symptoms should be advised to contact their physician for diagnosis and treatment.

Measures which can reduce the degree of exposure to laboratory animal allergens include:

  • use of protective gear such as gloves, face masks, gowns, shoe covers, etc., worn only in animal rooms;
  • regular hand-washing, and showering after work;
  • use of improved filtration in animal room ventilation systems, and the use of special filtered caging systems; and
  • educational programs for employees identifying high risk (e.g., high allergen load) areas and tasks, and strict use of preventive measures.

Concerns related to lab animal allergies can be brought to the attention of the physician in the Occupational Health Program at the Environmental Health and Safety Office, if you have joined, or your personnel physician. As noted above, identifying high risk areas and tasks, and the use of SOPs in these areas, along with education, are useful in reducing the severity of the problem.



Allergy symptoms, know them: sneezing, itchy eyes, rash, runny nose, asthma...


Limit animal handling and the creation of aerosols by using cabinets, ventilated cages, hoods & facilities


Leave street clothes out of the facility, wear dedicated protective clothing, which must be left at work.


Expose not the general public, transport animals in covered cages, use non-public hallways...


Register with the Occupational Health Program


Gloves, lab coat and mask must be worn to minimize exposure.


Your hands, cages, accessories and rooms, must be kept clean
Up to 30% of people who work with animals develop allergies - don't be one of them!



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