Please also consult:
- the sections of PREPARE on health monitoring and, if relevant, necropsy procedures
- the sections of the Norecopa website on Health & Safety and contingency plans
Planning an animal study must include a risk assessment, because of the potential dangers to health from working directly or indirectly with animals or animal material. Do not forget all the groups of people who may be affected by physical and chemical hazards produced during animal studies. These include those who enter a facility on a more irregular basis (e.g. maintenance staff), and the family and friends of those who work in the facility.
A risk assessment must consider both the standard of the animal facility and the nature of the planned experiment. This is yet another reason for the need for close collaboration between scientists and facility staff from day 1 of planning.
Common health risks include:
- Allergy to animals, bedding and nesting material, feed, chemicals and latex
- Physical injury: bites, kicks, scratches and cuts, heavy lifting (e.g. feed and bedding, chemical containers, cages), the operation of machinery such as autoclaves and washing machines, and the use of sharp instruments
- Infections and zoonoses from animals, pests, pets, feed, bedding, water, the ventilation plant, instruments and experimental infections. Personnel may also carry infections which may be unwittingly transmitted to research animals.
- Hazards due to chemicals that are part of the study, including potentially bioactive substances which are to be tested, and the facility’s own chemicals (e.g. disinfectants, detergents, anaesthetic agents, laboratory chemicals and liquid nitrogen), for which there always should be a Technical Datasheet easily available. Chemicals to be tested in an animal study pose the greatest health risk since their effects are, by definition, often largely unknown at the onset of the experiment.
- Ionising radiation from isotopes and X-ray machines
- Other environmental factors such as the effects of extremes of humidity and room temperature on personnel
- Psychological impacts related to the care and use of animals in scientific procedures, and engagement in the ethical debate surrounding the issue, including exposure to the mass media.
A common factor for many of the health hazards (e.g. micro-organisms and radiation) is that they are invisible and therefore difficult to detect. This places a great responsibility upon those who are involved in the hazardous activity, or who have enough knowledge to predict it, and those who are charged with the tasks of containment after accidents and subsequent decontamination. Openness is vital.