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Occupational Health and Safety

Occupational Health and Safety Program (OHSP)                                      

Participation in the Occupational Health and Safety Program (OHSP) is required for all faculty, staff, visiting scholars, scientists and students who work directly with or have frequent contact with vertebrate animals, unfixed animal tissues or body fluids. This program is required by federal regulations and ASU’s external accrediting agency. The major goals of the OHSP are to address potential risks associated with the use of animals in research settings. Examples include animal bites, scratches, allergens, and pathogens that might be transmissible to humans, and other health-related risks.

The OHSP has been designed to:

  • protect individuals from work-related risks associated with research on animals
  • protect the health of research animals from certain transmissible diseases
  • be pertinent to the work individuals do and the species to which they are exposed
  • be minimally intrusive
  • be cost effective

What do participating individuals have to do?

All participants must complete the Initial Health Surveillance Questionnaire prior to working with animals and an Annual Health Surveillance Questionnaire every year thereafter. Each questionnaire is reviewed by ASU Employee Health to determine the individual’s level of potential exposure and whether further steps are necessary. If areas of concern are detected, the individual will be advised to take appropriate measures to avoid potential health risks.

We encourage any individual who has concerns about the content of the questionnaire or work-related health risks associated with working with animals, unfixed tissues or body fluids to discuss these concerns with the OHSP medical practitioner at ASU Employee Health or a personal care medical practitioner during a private interview. The contents of the questionnaire and subsequent communications between the medical provider and the individual are not shared with anyone, including the employer or supervisor. In unusual situations that pose a serious and imminent health-related risk to the individual, co-workers or animals, the animal researcher will be asked to sign a release form that will allow the information to be shared with appropriate university personnel.

Who pays for the OHSP?

The cost of the OHSP, including ASU Employee Health review of the Health Surveillance Questionnaire, any recommended vaccinations, tuberculosis testing or chest X-rays provided by ASU Employee Health, is covered by ASU Knowledge Enterprise (KE). Any additional costs may or may not be covered by KE, and such determination will be made on a case-by-case basis.  

What are components of the OHSP?

  • Training - Animal users must be provided with training regarding the species-specific diseases and health problems or risks associated with their proposed animal interactions. Principal investigators (PIs) or their designees are responsible for ensuring that appropriate individuals receive training. On request, the Animal Care Program personnel can provide training regarding appropriate handling of animals. Specialized safety trainings may be required, depending on the specific procedures being performed (see Animal Personnel Safety for more information). 

  • Health questionnaire - A confidential Health Surveillance Questionnaire (HSQ) is completed and, based upon evaluation of the information by an ASU Employee Health medical practitioner, further medical evaluations may be necessary. Participating individuals must complete the questionnaire annually.

  • Physical examination - As a condition of Department of Animal Care Technologies (DACT) employment, all individuals shall receive a pre-placement examination. In addition, some animal users, based on their medical history and planned use of animals, may be encouraged to receive a physical examination by the ASU Employee Health medical practitioner with an emphasis on problems associated with their planned animal interactions. Exams will be given at the discretion of the medical practitioner or at the request of the employee or student.
  • Vaccinations - All participants are required to have a single tetanus vaccination within the last ten (10) years. Individuals must provide written proof of vaccination or they will be required to repeat the immunization. Additional vaccinations may also be recommended or required depending on the species being studied and after evaluation of the questionnaire by the medical practitioner at ASU Employee Health. To schedule an appointment for vaccinations, contact ASU Employee Health at (602) 496-1917. Identify yourself as a researcher who works with animals when scheduling the appointment.
  • Tuberculosis (TB) exposure testing - All individuals who work with or around non-human primates are required to have tuberculosis exposure testing.  These individuals must demonstrate negative results from an annual tuberculin skin test (PPD) provided by ASU Employee Health or an alternate health provider.  Any individual who has a positive reaction to the skin test must have a secondary screening (blood test, and if positive, an X-ray) to ascertain the presence of active disease. If there is a positive test but negative X-ray, contact with non-human primates must cease and the appropriate course of treatment will be offered at no cost to the individual. Following treatment, contact with non-human primates may resume. Subsequent years will require an annual health questionnaire only (no testing). If the individual chooses not to receive the treatment, the individual will remain restricted from contact with non-human primates. No one with active disease (determined by X-ray) will be eligible to resume contact with non-human primates at any time.

For further information, please contact OHSP Nurse 602-496-1917, the IACUC Office 480-965-4387, or the IACUC Chair 480-727-0457.

Occupational health surveillance program forms

Working safely with animals

Arizona State University actively promotes the safe handling of animals used in research and teaching. The information below, as well as the Laboratory Allergen Training, introduces some of the hazards associated with the handling of animals and describes the steps that should be taken to minimize those risks.

Risks in handling animals

The hazards associated with handling animals or their tissues can be divided into three categories:

  • Physical injuries include bites and scratches inflicted by rodents, rabbits, birds, reptiles, primates and other species. Other occupational-related injuries may occur when caring for animals, including back injuries and slips, trips, and falls. The key to preventing these types of injuries is proper training (provided by animal care staff or other qualified individuals).
  • Allergies are associated with respiratory or contact allergens such as animal dander or urine. All personnel should be aware that laboratory animals are sources of potential allergens. The best policy in most circumstances is to prevent exposure. Please review the Fact Sheet for Animal-Related Asthma and Allergies  and Respiratory Protection in ABSL1 Facilities for more information.
  • Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to humans and from humans to animals. Although zoonotic diseases are not common in modern animal facilities, their prevention and detection must be an important concern of all personnel who work with animals in the laboratory or the field. Remember that zoonotic diseases can be transmitted by tissues as well as by live animals.

Personal hygiene and protection overview

There are some common-sense steps that can be taken to lessen the risks associated with working with animals. These include:

  • Do not eat, drink, or apply cosmetics or contact lenses around animals or animal care areas

  • Wear gloves, face masks and other personal protective equipment when handling animals or their tissues

  • Do not rub your face with contaminated hands or gloves
  • Wash your hands after each animal contact

Research personnel can protect themselves by limiting their use of needles and syringes, taking enough time to give injections properly, anesthetizing animals prior to inoculation with infectious agents, and using a two-person team to inoculate animals. For more information, please review the Fact Sheet for the Handling and Disposal of Sharps.

For procedures such as necropsies, bedding changes, and tissue and fluid samplings, containment devices such as biological safety cabinets, full-face respirators, or other personal safety equipment should be used as indicated.

For more information, please consult immediate supervisor, the Department of Animal Care & Technology (DACT) at 480-965-3325 or the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at 480-965-1823.

What you should know

  • about bites, scratches and other injuries
    For an acute injury (e.g., animal bite, cage scratch), follow the animal-specific first aid protocol posted in the laboratory and then report to ASU Employee Health for medical treatment. ASU Employee Health is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. After hours, call 602-496-1917 and a doctor will advise you concerning your medical condition and proper course of action.

  • about zoonotic diseases
    Humans are sometimes susceptible to infectious diseases carried by animals even when the animals themselves show few signs of illness. Microorganisms in the normal flora of a healthy animal may cause serious illness in persons who have had no previous exposure to the organism and lack protective immunity. Persons who are immunosuppressed because of medication or underlying medical conditions may be at a higher risk of infection. Workers should be aware of these possibilities and take precautions to minimize the risk of infection. If you do become ill with a fever or some other sign of infection, it is important to tell your medical practitioner that you work with animals.

  • if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy
    Working with animals could potentially expose you and your baby to disease. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, please contact your primary care medical practitioner, your obstetrician or ASU Employee Health at 602-496-1917.
  • if you work with nonhuman primates
    There are potentially serious health hazards associated with working with nonhuman primates. Diseases of nonhuman primates may be transmitted to humans and may include Herpesvirus simiae (or B-virus), Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), tuberculosis, shigella, campylobacter and salmonella.

In addition to the Tetanus vaccination requirement, you must receive two Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccinations (or an appropriate titer test showing immunity) and tuberculosis exposure testing. Individuals must demonstrate negative results from an annual tuberculin skin test (PPD) provided by ASU Employee Health or an alternate health provider. Any individual that has a positive reaction to the skin test must have an annual chest X-ray to ascertain the presence of active disease. There is no grace period; all individuals must have had a negative skin test or X-ray within the past twelve (12) months to be permitted access to primate use areas.

Training that has a strong emphasis on proper use of personal protective equipment combined with understanding nonhuman primate behavior is available through the Department of Animal Care Technologies (DACT). The general principles are applicable to any program that houses nonhuman primates.

  • if you work with rodents 
    Rodents, such as mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs and hamsters, are the most common cause of induced allergies in those who work with animals. Personal protective equipment (e.g., lab gowns, gloves, N95 respirators) should be worn when working with rodents. If you already are sensitized to rodent dander, or if you become sensitized, you should report this to ASU Employee Health.  Contact with rodents requires awareness of diseases such as dwarf tapeworm, lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM), salmonellosis and ringworm. To protect against these agents, take care to limit direct contact and aerosol exposure to soiled bedding containing feces and urine. Gloves and masks limit exposure to soiled bedding and help prevent transmission of diseases such as ringworm and fur mites.

If you will handle wild rodents or their tissues, review “if you work with wild animals in the field” below.

  • if you work with rabbits
    Rabbits are common sources of human allergies. In addition, rabbit skin mites such as Cheyletiella parasitovorax can cause transient rashes in humans. Rabbits are known to bite and scratch.

If you handle wild rabbits or their tissues, review “if you work with wild animals in the field” below.

  • if you work with reptiles or amphibians
    Amphibians and reptiles, including turtles, frequently harbor Salmonella. Oral transmission to humans can cause diarrhea and illness and may be avoided by wearing gloves and careful hand washing. Only properly trained individuals may handle venomous snakes and other venomous reptiles.
  • if you work with wild animals in the field
    Many wild animals (e.g., bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, wolves, coyotes, other carnivores) may transmit rabies. Bats are the primary source of rabies infection in the United States. Personnel working with animals in the wild are advised to have a pre-exposure rabies vaccination. Anyone whose work involves a risk of bites from these animals should consider immunization against rabies, which is available through ASU Employee Health. Call 602-496-1917 for an appointment to discuss pre-exposure immunization. All bite or scratch wounds involving wild animals require prompt medical evaluation and treatment.

Uncommon but serious risks associated with using wild rodents include Hantavirus, bubonic plague, and leptospirosis. Deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) appear to be the principal reservoir for a strain of Hantavirus that is pathogenic to humans.

Zoonotic diseases, such as psittacosis and avian tuberculosis, can infect wild birds. Wild rabbits may transmit tularemia to those exposed to fresh tissues.

Ticks can transmit several diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Early treatment can prevent serious consequences such as arthritic, cardiac and neurological problems, which are more difficult to cure. To prevent tick bites, wear full-length pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors in tick-infested areas. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pant legs into your boots or socks. A tick repellent may also be used on clothing and skin. Inspect yourself often and promptly remove any embedded ticks with forceps or fingers protected by tissue. If you experience a bull’s eye rash 3-30 days after a tick bite, or joint pain, fever, chills, headache or malaise after being bitten by a tick, immediately contact ASU Employee Health at (602) 496-1917.

Individuals working with wild animals should discuss potential zoonotic diseases with their principal investigator and ASU Employee Health. For information about minimizing health risks in the field, see the Safety Guidelines for Field Researchers.

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