Hazards Related to Working with Animals

Several hazards can potentially be encountered when working with animals. The hazards may be physical, biological or chemical. The risks related to these hazards can be minimized through proper hazard identification; training; implementing appropriate engineering and administrative controls; using safe work practices; and judicious use of correct personal protective equipment.

Physical Hazards

Physical hazards include, but are not limited to bites, kicks, crushing by animals; trips, slips, falls from wet floors, steps or improperly placed equipment and supplies; burns from steam or chemicals; ionizing radiation; loud noise from animals or equipment; electrical shock; pinching, cuts, abrasions or crushing by equipment; ergonomic injury; back injury from lifting.

Animal Bites

Colorado Rabies Control Statutes require that anyone having knowledge of a person bitten by a dog, cat or other mammal to report that fact to the local health department or county health officer. For dogs, cats, bats, skunks and wild carnivores such report must be made within 24 hours. The report should include name, age, sex and location of the person, and if known the location of the biting animal. In Larimer County call 970-226-3647; Boulder County 303-441-4444 or 303-441-1564 for wildlife bites and in Weld County call 970-304-6415. Consult Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) for additional information at 303-692-2700 or 303-370-9395. Pet animals or livestock potentially exposed to known or suspected rabid animal must be immediately reported to CDPHE. Domestic dogs, cats or ferrets involved in human bite must be quarantined for a 10 day observation period to eliminate the risk of rabies transmission.

Biological hazards

Allergens produced by animals are by far the most common hazard. Allergens may be present in fur, dander, saliva or urine. Individuals may also be exposed bacteria, viruses, parasites or other infectious agents occurring naturally or experimentally introduced into an animal. Individuals with a weakened immune system, e.g. from pre-existing conditions, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, corticosteroid treatment, or splenectomy, may be particularly vulnerable to these infectious agents. Consult with a health care provider before working with animals in such cases.

Chemical Hazards

A wide range of chemicals are used in the animal facility for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. Some chemicals are introduced into animals as part of an experiment and may be metabolized to different compounds. These chemicals and their metabolites may be present in body fluids, tissues, urine, feces, bedding and caging equipment. Chemicals may be irritating, caustic, flammable, and in rare instances mutagenic. Chemicals commonly used in animal facilities include: acids, bases, soaps, disinfectants, sterilants, anesthetic agents. Be familiar with the material safety data sheets for the chemicals in use. When in doubt contact Environmental Health Services (491-6745).


Several hazards can be encountered when working with animals; hazards may be physical, biological or chemical. It is important to be aware of these hazards and to follow proper work procedures to maintain a safe working environment.


  1. Occupational health and Safety in the Care and Use of Research Animals (2007). NRC, National Academy Press, Washington, DC
  2. Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (2007) PHS/CDC/NIH/

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