Occupational Health & Safety Program

Program Description

The UAF Occupational Health and Safety Program (OHSP) is a three-tiered risk based program managed by the Office of Research Integrity and the Department of Enviromental Health, Safety & Risk Management (EHS&RM). Participation in the OHSP is required for all individuals working in UAF owned animal facilities and field researchers conducting high risk activities (e.g. working with wild canids in areas where rabies is endemic). Assignment to a specific risk level is based on the species of animals you will be working with, the amount of time spent working with animals, and the specific hazards (physical, biological, chemical and radioactive) related to the project. This evaluation is made based on the information you provide in your Personnel Information Form (PIF). Subsequent OHSP requirements depend on your assigned risk level and are summarized below:

  • Risk Level 1 - No additional enrollment requirements. You will be provided with information about the most common health hazards associated with work in the animal facilities. You are responsible for updating your Personnel Information Form as necessary, but at least annually and informing the Office of Research Integrity when there is a change in your health status that might increase your personal risk factors for occupational health problems.
  • Risk Level 2 - A ll personnel assigned to risk level 2 must submit a Medical Questionnaire (MQ) directly to the University's health care provider. An occupational health professional will review the MQ and your PIF (sent by EHS&RM) and make a determination regarding your fitness to perform your assigned animal related duties. The determination returned to UAF does not contain any personal medical information, it simply states that you are cleared for animal care duties, cleared with specific accommodations or that additional exam or testing is required to make the determination. The cost of all required exams/tests is paid by the University. All consultations and tests should be done during your normal work time as they are conditions of employment. You are responsible for updating your PIF as necessary, but at least annually and informing the Office of Research Integrity when there is a change in your health status that might change your risk assessment.
  • Risk Level 3 - Requirements are the same as for risk level 2, except that a physical exam is required at least every three years. As with the other risk levels , you are responsible for updating your PIF as necessary, but at least annually and informing the Office of Research Integrity when there is a change in your health status that might increase your personal risk factors for occupational health problems.

Initial and continuing access to the animal facilities is contingent upon your fulfilling all the requirements of your assigned risk level including periodic renewal/review. Completion of any additional training, vaccinations, serum banking, etc. deemed necessary by the Office of Research Integrity in consultation with the University's contract health care provider is also a condition of initial and continuing access to the facility.

Contract Care Provider

UAF has maintains a contract with a local medical clinic to provide occupational medical screenings, surveillance, consultation and care for university personnel.  The current contract provider is Alaska Occupational Health located at 1919 Lathrop St. #203, Fairbanks, AK 99701. All occupational health services (other than emergency care) must be pre-approved by either EHS&RM or the Office of Research Integrity.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Supervisors or Principal Investigators must provide PPE appropriate to the duties and potential risks/exposures that staff and students may experience. This is true regardless of the type of work or location where it is performed and therefore applies to work involving live vertebrates in the lab, animal facilities or field. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are a good source of safe handling and PPE guidelines for chemical use. The Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories, 5th Edition, (BMBL) provides safety and health information for work with microbial agents (infectious and non-infectious). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website is an excellent source of information on animal allergies, asthma and common zoonotic diseases.

At a minimum the following PPE must be provided for routine animal work (not involving infectious diseases):

  • Lab coat or coveralls
  • Disposable gloves (preferably unpowdered non-latex for regular use)
  • Safety glasses or face shields
  • Disposable shoe covers (BiRD Building) for personnel that do not have dedicated shoes for use in the facility.

Other PPE or equipment that may be necessary depending on the species and duties involved or based on the known or reasonably suspected presence of infectious agents or hazardous chemicals include:

  • Respiratory protection (particulate masks or respirators) - use of respiratory protection requires medical clearance and fit testing.
  • Disposable foot covers or footwear that can be sanitized
  • Scavenging canisters to collect waste anesthetic gases during surgeries or procedures
  • Biosafety Cabinet of Fume Hood

Risk Notification & Special Circumstances

Supervisors are required to provide staff and students with information regarding the potential risks and exposures related to their work and to make reasonable accommodations for their special needs/circumstances. This includes health and safety related issues. Standard accommodations may include changing work assignments and providing additional PPE for individuals who need to take extra precautions to avoid certain chemicals, allergens, etc.

Basic information on the most common risks associated with working in an animal facility (zoonotic diseases, allergies, and asthma) is available in a brief pamphlet developed by ORI, which is available HERE electronically or as a hard copy from the ORI or animal facility managers.  This pamphlet should be provided to all new research personnel.  Links to more information are available on the Occupational Health section of the IACUC website. 

Infectious Diseases in Wildlife that are of Human Health Importance

Fear of zoonotic disease is unfortunately closely related to ignorance and misunderstanding.  Lack of knowledge generally increases risk of exposure but lack of understanding and irrational fear of these diseases may also create problems.  Always ask your supervisor about possible risks including potential exposure to zoonotic agents.

Understanding of the following terms is integral to any discussion of infectious disease:

  • Zoonosis: An infection or infestation shared in nature by man and lower vertebrate animals/birds.
  • Infection: Multiplication of microorganisms in the body.
  • Infectious: Denoting a disease due to a microorganism.
  • Contagious: a disease that is transmissible by contact.
  • Etiology: Cause of disease. May be infectious or non-infectious.
  • Seropositive: Serum tests positive for the antibody against specific etiologic agent. Indicates exposure only. Need acute and convalescent sera to identify current infection. Must understand concept of specificity and sensitivity.
  • Seronegative: Serum tests negative for the antibody against a specific etiologic agent. Does not necessarily mean the animal is free of disease!

** Although it is important to be aware of all the diseases listed below, the starred diseases are of particular significance in certain parts of Alaska.

Note: This list is not exhaustive.  You should learn about the zoonotic diseases in your geographic region and in the species you are working with!!!  Detailed information can be obtained from the websites and references provided at the end of the Occupational Health page.

Name of Disease or Etiology Can be found in:
 Rabies** fox, dog, cat, skunk, raccoon, bat, any mammal
 Conagious ecthyma sheep, goat, muskox, reindeer
 Sin Nombre Virus (hantavirus) Peromyscus spp., other rodents
Name of Disease or Etiology  Can be found in:
Anthrax** bison, all mammals
Brucellosis** caribou, reindeer, bison, cattle, many mammals
Tularemia**beaver, muskrat, hare, ground squirrels
Salmonellosis**any mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians
Yersiniosismuskrat, beaver (any mammal or bird)
Tuberculosis (bovine) primarily ungulates
Leptospirosismany mammals
Chlamydiosisprimarily birds, also mammals
Seal Finger (Mycoplasma sp.) phocids
Name of Disease or Etiology Can be found in:
Echinococcus multiocularis** fox, coyote, wolf, dog, cat
Echinococcus granulosus**wolf, coyote, dog
Sarcotic mange any mammal
Giardiahumans, beaver
Toxoplasmosiscats, any mammal
Baylisascaris spp.bears, raccoons, mustelids, rodents
Toxocara caniscanids
Name of Disease or EtiologyCan be found in:
Ringwormany mammal (avian ringworm is not zoonotic)
Various Yeast/Fungimay be acquired from infected animals

The most common way diseases are passed from animals to people is t hrough direct contact with the animal, their wastes (urine or feces), tissues (blood), or saliva.  Good personal hygiene and proper use of personal protective equipment are your best defenses against contracting a zoonotic disease.  

Other Common Health Risks

The most common occupational health problems for individuals working in animal facilities are allergies and asthma.


People who work in animal facilities are much more likely to develop animal allergies than the general population.  Allergies can develop over time, even in people who have never had an allergy.  Existing allergies may get worse with repeated exposure.  P eople who are allergic to one species (for example dogs or cats) are more likely to be or become allergic to lab animals like mice and rats.  The most common causes of animal allergies are proteins found in the hair, dander, saliva, urine or feces.  This means that certain activities in the animal facilties, e.g. changing rodent cages, can result in higher levels of allergens in the facilities and sensitized individuals should take special precautions when working in the facilities at such times.  Some species of animals, for example rats and mice, produce more allergenic proteins than others.

A variety of non-animal related allergens are also common in animal facilities; the most common one being latex.  Other common allergens that may be present in the animal facilities include, but are not limited to:   cleaning products and chemicals, wood shavings, feeds (especially those containing alfalfa or other hays), molds, mildews, etc.   If you have a known allergy contact the ORI or the animal facility manager before entering the facility to determine your risk of exposure.

Everyone working in animal facilities should be familiar with the signs/symptoms of an allergic reaction.  Symptoms can be mild to severe and differ depending on the route of exposure (i.e. through contact, inhalation, or ingestion).

  • Mild to Moderate Contact Allergy Symptoms:
    • redness
    • itchiness
    • hives
  • Mild to Moderate Inhalation Allergy Symptoms:
    • sneezing
    • congestion
    • runny nose
    • itchiness
  • Moderate to Severe Contact or Inhalation Allergy Symptoms may include any or all of the above and any combination of the following:
    • generalized itching
    • hives
    • throat tightness
    • eye or lip swelling
    • difficulty swallowing
    • hoarseness
    • shortness of breath
    • dizziness
    • fainting
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • abdominal cramps
    • diarrhea
  • Very Rapid Severe Allergic Reactions can cause anaphylactic shock which may result in death if the person does not receive immediate treatment.

It is very important that you take allergic symptoms seriously.  If you or someone else is experiencing allergy symptoms in the animal facilities or when working with animals in the field you should immediately stop what you're doing, and deal with any emergency (in the facilities call 911; in the field follow your established safety plan or procedures).  If possible remove the person from the source of the allergen.  If emergency care is not required, stop what you're doing, remove the person from the facility or from the immediate vicinity of the source of the allergen, and immediately report the symptoms immediately to your supervisor and the Office of Research Integrity.  You should also fill out an Accident/Incident Report to document what happened.


Asthma is a serious respiratory condition that can be aggrevated by allergen exposure.  Additionally, repeated allergic actions can lead to the development of asthma.  Once exposure is stopped the asthma symptoms may disappear immediately or be persistent.

Animal care workers are more likely to develop asthma than the general population.

Field Safety

The most important thing to remember regarding field safety is that all the same requirements and regulations that must be followed in labs and animal facilities must also be adhered to in the field! This includes proper handling, storage, labeling, shipping, and disposal of all materials and appropriate use of PPE.

Field work with animals has the same risks as work conducted in animal facilities, but those risks are compounded by risks associated with climate/weather, terrain, native plants, insects, wildlife and distance from help. Work with your unit safety officer and/or Environmental Health, Safety & Risk Management to assess the risk factors associated with your specific location(s) and activities.

The distance of most field sites from medical services greatly increases the risks associated with any activity; minor injury or illness can become serious in a relatively short time if medical assistance is not readily available. Inclement weather can also negatively impact the arrival of medical help or the evacuation of sick or injured individuals. You should make sure that you always carry enough food, water, first aid supplies and medications for a couple of extra days in case of delays.

The UA Statewide Office of Risk Management has published two documents related to remote travel:  the UA Remote Travel Safety Guide and the UA Remote Travel Planning & Resource Guide.  These documents provide excellent suggestions on how to prepare and pack for remote travel and address the most common health and safety risks encountered in travel to remote locations (i.e. for field work).  These guides do not address risks associated with handling live vertebrates, but provided a good foundation; for general information on potential hazards related to activities involving live vertebrates visit the Occupational Health section of the IACUC website or contact the Office of Research Integrity with specific concerns or questions.

Prior to heading into the field you should obtain a copy of these manuals and ensure that you take the appropriate training sessions. These might include one or more of the following (list is not all inclusive):

  • Survival training
  • Bear safety training
  • Firearms safety training
  • Aircraft and/or Boat safety
  • Wilderness First Aid/CPR training
  • Driver Training (mandatory if you are driving a UAF vehicle!)

Contact your department safety officer or EHS&RM for information on currently scheduled training courses.

A good basic wilderness first aid text is Mountaineering First Aid: A Guide to Accident Response and First Aid Care (ISBN 0-89886-878-5) by Carline, Lentz and Macdonald and published by The Mountaineers' Books . This is one of the resources used in American Red Cross Wilderness First Aid courses. The book is currently in its fifth edition and is available in bookstores and on Amazon.com for about $13.00.  UAF EHS&RM provides free hard copies of another good safety guide, Emergency Survival a pocket guide by Christopher Van Tilburg, M.D.

Travel Safety Plan

Everyone working in remote locations needs to file a safety plan with a responsible person or office. This plan should include the location(s) you will be (as specific as possible) and your planned date/time of departure and return. You should also have a check-in schedule, if practical, for trips longer than a few days. If your research group or unit does not have a formal tracking process for field projects, file your itinerary with EHS&RM and a reliable friend or family member. The person or office that you file your safety plan with is responsible for initiating search and rescue on your behalf, so don't forget to check-in when you return!