3. STRATEGIES TO PREVENT HEALTH PROBLEMS

3.1 PHYSICAL FACILITIES AND ENVIRONMENT

3.1.1 LOCATION
The facility should be lockable and separated from laboratories, teaching facilities, and administration areas.

3.1.2 CONSTRUCTION & FACILITIES
There should be separate rooms for each of the following: staff offices, staff tea room, staff showers and toilets, animal housing, manipulative procedures (injection, bleeding, surgery, testing, and euthanasia), food storage rooms and quarantine. Separate areas should also be provided for cage cleaning/washing and garbage handling/storage. There should be separate delivery access and lifts to avoid mixing human and animal traffic. All restricted areas should be clearly signposted. Where appropriate internal doors should have vision panels.

All surfaces should be impervious to biological waste, including wall/floor/ceiling surfaces. Rodents and birds should not have access to animal holding areas. False ceilings should not be constructed in animal houses, as this may create breeding areas for feral animals. All surfaces apart from the floor should be smooth to facilitate cleaning. Unless designated as dry rooms, all rooms should have floors graded to a centrally located floor drain.

Hand basins with hot and cold water should be readily accessible. All animal holding areas should have good access to autoclaving facilities if they are not already included in the animal holding area.

3.1.3 VENTILATION
All animal houses must have adequate airconditioning or ventilation as required. Air should not be recirculated. Ventilation should be sufficient to enable compliance with the regulatory permissible exposure levels for ammonia (refer to Hazardous Substances Information System - HSIS). Air movement should be evenly distributed throughout each room without drafts or dead spots.

All aspects of the ventilation system (inlets, ducting, and outlets) should be bird and rodent-proofed.

The pressure gradient at which animal rooms are ventilated has implications for human and animal health. Where possible, non-animal areas (e.g. corridors) should not receive contaminated air from animal areas.

There should be no cross ventilation between animal houses and staff offices or tea rooms. Tea rooms are best located in separate buildings where practicable.

Where practicable, inlets to exhausts should be located at the level where the concentration of animal residue is highest. The exhaust air should be discharged in a manner where it cannot re-enter buildings. Where rooms have a risk of discharging zoonotic pathogens, the exhaust air should be pre-filtered, then subjected to HEPA (high efficiency particle arresting) filtration, before being discharged.

Exhaust ducts for effluent air should have removable half chevron registers so that they can be maintained free of fur and other particulates. Exhaust ducts should not discharge in populated or enclosed areas, such as a frequently-used footpath or courtyard. Effluent ducts should discharge air well above the roof line in accordance with Australian Standard 1668.2.

Local exhaust ventilation must be provided in operating theatres to exhaust anaesthetic gases at the source of generation. Local exhaust ventilation should also be provided in areas where there is a high production of dusts, aerosols, etc (e.g. emptying feed bags, cleaning cages, handling sawdust). In some cases, e.g. handling sawdust, both exhaust ventilation and respiratory equipment may be required.

Work with animals involving volatile anaesthetics, particularly in an open system, should be performed in a fume cupboard, or using local exhaust ventilation. Vaporisers should be used.


3.2 ANIMAL HEALTH

Incoming stock should be subjected to a period of quarantine when first introduced.

All animal sickness should be reported and all animals which die "unexpectedly" should be autopsied by trained and experienced personnel.

Primates should be subjected to a regular programme of health-monitoring including the appropriate tests.


3.3 PERSONNEL

3.3.1 SELECTION
Pre-placement screening procedures adopted by the University will be observed.

3.3.2 PREGNANT STAFF
Toxoplasma gondii may infect humans. In pregnant women, infection with the micro-organism may adversely affect the foetus. Female staff of a reproductive age should therefore undergo serological testing for toxoplasma prior to contact with cats. Non-immune female staff or reproductive age should not handle cats who are, or may be infected.

In all cases good hygiene should be practised including glove wearing and the frequent cleaning of cat housing and disposal of litter.

Other reproductive hazards may also be found in animal houses. These include chemicals (e.g. alcohol, anesthetic gases, cytotoxic drugs, hormones, recombinant DNA), physical agents (radiation, heat) and other infective agents (e.g. brucella, cytomegalovirus, herpes virus, hepatitis B virus). Concerned female staff in animal houses should seek advice from the office of Laboratory Animal Services. Where it may be necessary to temporarily alter work practices or redeploy pregnant staff, the matter should then be referred to the senior manager of the animal house (Dean of Faculty or Head of Department as applicable).

3.3.3 HEALTH MONITORING
Periodic medical tests and examinations may be warranted in certain situations to monitor the health of staff engaged in work that entails the possibility of exposure to harmful agents. These may apply to particular animal houses or to specific aspects or projects within the animal houses. Contact one of the WHS Advisers for advice on the matter.

3.3.4 TREATMENT AND RETURN TO WORK
Individuals who suffer any of the symptoms or injuries mentioned in section 2, or who are concerned about the effects of work on their health should report the problem (see section 3.5.6) and should seek medical opinion, preferably from one of the Injury Management staff or the University Health Service. Respiratory symptoms in particular should be followed up as early as possible to avoid the development of occupational asthma.

Where laboratory animal allergy or occupational asthma is diagnosed, the Head of Department should ensure that all practicable steps are taken to minimise further exposure to allergens.

In every instance of work-related illness or work-related injury the appropriate return to work program shall be observed consistent with the University's Injury Management Policy.

3.3.5 VACCINATION
The following vaccinations are required for individuals working with animals. Vaccinations are available through the University Health Service.

  • Tetanus - for all individuals working with animals.
  • Q Fever - for all individuals who work with or come into contact with goats, cattle and sheep.
  • Hepatitis B and Tuberculosis - for individuals whose work involves daily care and/or close handling of primates must have a baseline serology test for Hepatitis and chest X-rays prior to contact.
  • Australian bat lyssavirus and rabies - for all individuals who come into contact with flying foxes or bats


3.3.6 INFORMATION AND TRAINING
Systems must be in place to ensure that persons working in animal houses (including cleaners, maintenance staff and contractors) are informed of potential hazards. This includes infectious diseases, chemicals, radiation hazards, drugs used, and particular hazards associated with each species. All persons required to work in animal houses must complete a safety induction prior to commencing work.

Research staff are required to inform animal workers of the nature of the research being conducted if this research is considered hazardous to staff. Where animals are known to be infected, workers must be informed about the nature of the diseases carried, the risks associated with those diseases, and the procedures necessary to minimise the risk of infection. They must be given this information prior to exposure, and in a manner which they can understand.

All staff should be advised in detail of the potential risk of toxoplasma. Female staff should be advised before commencing work in an animal facility of the hazard of toxoplasma infection to a human foetus.

Appropriate signs should be erected in the facility to indicate clearly the nature of hazards therein. All cages containing animals which are contaminated with known pathogens must be labelled.

All persons coming in contact with animals (animal attendants, students, and research staff) should receive training appropriate to the extent and nature of their involvement, and their level of responsibility. Formal technical training in laboratory animal care is currently offered through T.A.F.E. colleges. Workshops for animal house and research staff and post-graduate students are run on a regular basis by Laboratory Animal Services.

3.3.7 SUPERVISION
The degree of supervision should be commensurate with a person's skill, experience and training. Where possible an experienced animal handler should assist an inexperienced handler in all procedures involving animals, until the latter demonstrates ability to work with animals without trauma to the animal or risk to self.


3.4 EQUIPMENT

Cages should be suitable for the species, and for the numbers held. They must be easily cleaned, autoclaved and disinfected, and have no sharp edges. Cages with solid bottoms and sides are better than wire cages for housing infected animals. The height of cage stacks should not exceed 1.6m, so that overhead work and the drift of residues into workers faces is minimised.

Feed bags, cages, and other items requiring repeated handling should be stored around waist height at a minimum of 50 cm from the floor, to minimise effort.

Mechanical manual handling devices should be used in preference to human lifting and handling wherever possible (e.g. hand trucks, trolleys, bins on wheels, conveyors, adjustable height work platforms, etc). Gravity feed hoppers for sawdust and feed should be used in preference to bags.

Unloading of autoclaves by hand increases the risk of burns. Autoclaves should be equipped with stackable trolleys to eliminate reaching into the hot chamber and to minimise awkward handling of extremely hot pieces of equipment.

There must be separate fridges/freezers for staff food and drink, and for animal carcasses, food, or medications.


3.5 WORK PRACTICES AND PROCEDURES

3.5.1 INFECTION CONTROL
Staff and students should limit their time in the immediate vicinity of animals, wherever possible. All tasks that do not require direct contact with animals should be performed in separate areas.

All animal handlers must wash their hands after each task.

Surgical gloves should be worn when handling animals, animal contaminated material, blood, tissues and dead animals. Surgical masks should be used when handling primates and wherever else appropriate.

All cuts and wounds which could permit the entry of foreign material must be covered. This is especially important when working with primates.

Animal handlers should never bring their hands to their face. If the face must be touched, the forearm should be used. Smoking, eating, drinking and applying make-up are prohibited in animal designated areas of animal houses.

Where a contamination barrier with shower & laundry is necessary to contain contaminated animals, staff should shower on their way out of the animal house. Personal shoes and other items should be left on one side and protective clothing and equipment on the other. Protective clothing should be laundered at the end of each day. If worn in contaminated areas, it should be autoclaved prior to washing.

Any procedure involving infected animals must be done in a biological safety cabinet of the appropriate class for the pathogens present, with appropriate protective equipment worn (see Australian Standards AS 2243.3 and AS 2252.4).

Outbreaks of infection in animal houses which are likely to impact on human health should be reported to the Manager, Laboratory Animal Services and the University Health Service. All staff and students should be informed of the risks. An Incident, Injury or Hazard reportshould also be completed in Riskware (refer to Section 3.5.6).

For further information refer to the Infection Control Procedures.

3.5.2 WASTE DISPOSAL
Animal pathological waste, sharps, chemical waste, and radioactive waste must be disposed of separately and not in the general waste bins.

Animal carcasses, dressings, organs and any other 'pathological waste' (including soiled animal bedding & excreta) must be disposed of according to the Hazardous Waste Disposal Guidelines - Clinical and Biological Waste.

Sharps including needles must be disposed of in approved sharps containers in accordance with the UniversityHazardous Waste Disposal Guidelines - Sharps.

Carcases and excreta that may have been treated with radioactive isotopes must be disposed of as radioactive waste if levels exceed statutory limits.

3.5.3 PERSONAL PROTECTIVE CLOTHING AND EQUIPMENT
All staff and students should wear adequate protective clothing when in an animal house. As a minimum this would be a laboratory coat, gown or overalls. Gloves should be worn when handling blood, tissues, dead animals, cytotoxic drugs and radioactive substances. Where gloves are necessary they should be suitable for the materials being handled. For chemicals nitrile, neoprene or 'viton' may be required. Cotton lined gloves are less likely to irritate the wearer's skin. Safety footwear should be worn when dealing with large animals.

Respiratory protection should be worn for all tasks involving a high production of dusts, and aerosols (e.g. emptying & cleaning cages, handling wood shavings, etc.). The appropriate respiratory protective device or contianment equipment (e.g. animal/cage change stations) shall be used. Where doubt exists as to the type of protective device that should be used, advice on the recommended type and supplier is available from Laboratory Animal Services or the OHS Office.

Protective goggles should also be worn in situations involving dusts and aerosols.

Animal houses with a potential risk for infection or contamination emergencies should ensure that a supply of disposable gowns, caps, gloves, masks and overshoes is readily accessible. Additional clothing and equipment which may be required include long sleeve thermal gloves (when emptying autoclaves), gum boots and waterproof aprons, and helmets (work with primates).

All personal protective clothing and equipment shall comply with the appropriate Australian Standard (Appendix 2), and should be supplied and maintained by the Department or Faculty (as applicable). The Department or Faculty is also responsible for coordinating the collection, despatch and processing of laundry.

3.5.4 CLEANING & STERILIZATION
Removal of bedding and excreta should be done under conditions which minimise dust generation. Cages and other contaminated equipment should be cleaned and sterilized according to locally specified procedures.

3.5.5 MAINTENANCE
A regular programme of maintenance of facilities and equipment (including personal protective equipment) should be in place.

3.5.6 INCIDENT/INJURY/ILLNESS REPORTING
All incidents, injuries and illnesses (including all animal bites and all outbreaks of infection which affect human health) should be verbally reported immediately to the supervisor, and the on-line Incident, Injury or Hazard Riskware report, through myHRonline, should be completed as soon as possible thereafter. Contact the OHS Office if you have problems reporting incidents, injuries, illnesses or hazards.

3.5.7 MANUAL HANDLING
Manual handling tasks should be addressed according to the University's Manual Handling Procedures which are consistent with the Code of Practice for Manual Handling. The Code does not specify weight limits for males and females. Instead it requires identification and assessment of a range of risk factors which determine how best to design a manual handling task. These include

  • the load (weight, size, shape, etc). Note: live animals can be unstable and unpredictable loads
  • the task being performed (frequency and duration of lifting; actions, movements and postures used; location of load, distance object is being moved, etc)
  • the individual (age, skills and experience, clothing, and special needs e.g. pregnancy, previous injury or disability)
  • the work organisation and environment.
  • Although the Code of Practice for Manual Handling does not dictate weight limits, it provides the following as a 'rule of thumb':
    - Young workers under the age of 18 years should not be required to lift, lower or carry objects weighing more than 16kg without mechanical or other assistance.
    - In seated work it is advisable not to lift loads in excess of 4.5kg.
    - From the standing position, it is advisable to keep lifting loads within the 16 - 20kg range. Mechanical assistance and/or team lifting should be provided for loads above 16 kg.
    - Generally no person should lift, lower or carry loads above 55 kg without mechanical assistance or team lifting.

Advice on manual handling can be obtained from WHS Advisers or Injury Management staff.

3.5.8 FIRST AID
First Aid requirements are set out in the University's First Aid Procedures. All animal houses must have first aid kits available. Animal Houses where more than 10 or more staff work should have at least one Nominated First Aid Officer. Contact WHS Services for further advice.