Working Safely with Animals


Animal Exposure Surveillance Program

The Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals requires institutions that receive federal funding to provide an occupational health and safety program for employees, visitors and students that work with or have exposure to research animals.

UCSF has an Occupational Health and Safety Program intended to provide guidelines for establishing a high level of safety for all individuals who are involved in the care and use of research animals. The Animal Exposure Surveillance Program (AESP) is one part of this program and serves to provide risk assessment and risk reduction strategies for all individuals with exposure to research animals at UCSF.

All new and current UCSF employees/research personnel who have contact with animals in the course of their work are required to participate in baseline and annual health screening procedures by enrolling in the Occupational Health Services' AESP. Failure to comply may result in a restriction from working with animals.

The Medical Health Screening (MHS) Questionnaire is available on-line through UCSF My Access. 
Due to security and private health information, this questionnaire can only be accessed from a UCSF computer or through VPN.  Please refer to the VPN instructions for accessing the MHS questionnaire from outside of the UCSF network.  Please contact the Public Health Office for any questions.

Policies on Animal Surveillance and Training:


Bites and scratches

Animal bites and scratches are ubiquitous hazards when working with laboratory animals, however can be largely preventable through proper training in animal handling and general restraint techniques of the species workers are assigned to. 
The IACUC oversees the training requirements for all animal users, including hands-on species specific training.  Please visit the IACUC website for more information.      

All animal workers should also be familiar with the first aid and post exposure procedures specific to each animal species they are working with.

Rodent bites and scratches are common in the research setting and should be properly addressed even if they inflict little to no tissue damage.

  1. If the skin breaks, apply first aid by washing thoroughly with only water and soap.

  2. UCSF staff and students to report research rodent bites/scratches to the UCSF 24 Hour Exposure Hotline at

    black mouse

3. Individuals must seek immediate medical attention at the closest Emergency Department if the following symptoms appear: 
Swelling of wound area, face, mouth or tongue

  • Burning and/or ascending pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness Hives or rash

It is important to remember that these reactions are rare but life-threatening.


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Laboratory Animal Allergies

Animal allergy is one of the most common health concerns affecting those involved in the care and use of research animals. The risks of developing an animal allergy depend on parameters such as species of animal used, type of animal work, facility setting and individual medical history.

Although all species of laboratory animals can cause allergic reactions, rats, mice and rabbits are some of the most commonly used laboratory animals thus the main sources of animal allergies. Certain tasks are also associated with higher animal allergen exposure risks, such as cage changing.

The animal facilities at UCSF are designed with engineering controls, such as ventilated animal racks and biosafety cabinets, to mitigate the risks of allergen exposure when used correctly by the animal handlers.  In addition, workers can reduce their risk of allergen exposure by routinely following PPE requirements and washing hands frequently.  It is important to remember that face masks do not provide protection against animal allergens.  If additional respiratory protection is needed or if there are animal allergy questions, UCSF staff and students may contact UCSF Occupational Health Services at (415) 885 – 7580 to schedule an appointment for evaluation.

Allergies to Laboratory Animals provides more information about risk of developing an allergic reaction and symptoms of allergic reactions for UCSF personnel who work with laboratory animals.


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Protocol Related Hazards

Protocol-related hazards are defined as those specifically associated with either routine operational or experiment-specific protocols.  Protocol-related hazards are protocol-specific, for example hazards associated with the use of an infectious agent.  Successful abatement of protocol-related hazards requires recognition and description of hazards prior to start of the experiments.  This is the responsibility of the campus technical safety committees, which are the Institutional Biosafety Committee, Radiation Safety Committee and Chemical Safety Committee

The safety committees oversee an user authorization program in their area of focus in order to identify relevant hazards associated with submitted protocols and work with the labs to abate these hazards by ensuring proper facilities, equipment, training and awareness to the staff involved in the study.

Investigators using biological, chemical or radioactive materials in animals must post a copy of the Animal Involvement in the Laboratory Animal Resource Center form on the door to the room housing their animals.  All special conditions relevant to safety will be shown on this form and must be approved by the appropriate safety committee.

There are basic safety precautions that apply to all work environments regardless of the types of hazardous materials used.  These include:

  • Read and understand the protocol related procedures before you start the experiment. If necessary do a dry run;
  • Avoid using sharps whenever possible; substitute manually operated pipettes for needles and syringes, and cannulae for needles
  • Do not recap needles; dispose of them in appropriate sharp containers;
  • Use safety needles and sharp devices.
  • Until you have washed your hands, keep them away from your mouth, nose and eyes;
  • Do not eat, drink or store food in research areas;
  • Do not handle contact lenses in the laboratory;
  • Wearing of gloves, lab coat or scrubs is required. Other personal protective equipment such as dust/mist masks or approved respirator masks (e.g., Type N95 by 3M company) may be needed  when working with animals but require proper medical clearance and fit testing, contact the Public Health Office for more information;
  • Please read and understand the special safety requirements for each work area (e.g. sheep containment facility) or animal species (e.g. non-human primates);
  • Follow all safety precautions prescribed;
  • Clean all spills immediately;
  • Dispose of all waste materials into the appropriate waste stream;
  • Report all incidents or equipment malfunctions to your supervisor immediately.

Specific exposure protocols by infectious agents are available here.
Animal biosafety standard operating procedures are available here.

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Zoonotic diseases are those that can be passed between animals and humans and can be caused by viruses, bacterias, parasties and fungi.  This zoonotic disease manual focuses on zoonotic disease associated with animals used at UCSF, including general methods to prevent disease transfer from animals to humans.  While most animals at UCSF are free of zoonotic disease, it is important to be aware of pathogenic organisms that may be carried by animals.  If you observe any symptoms in your study animals, contact a LARC veternarian immediately.  If you observe any symptoms in your household pets, contact your personal veterinarian.


Immune compromised workers/trainees

The UCSF Policy for Immune Compromised Workers/Trainees in the Research Laboratory Setting indicates that all immunocompromised workers and trainees who work in research laboratories or handle animals receive education and training regarding infectious agents present specific to their work area and job duties. As part of this training, information will be given regarding causes and risk factors for immune compromise. This information will be provided before starting work and on an annual basis thereafter.

Specific educational information related to Immune Compromised Workers/Trainees is available.

Reproductive Health

The UCSF Policy on Reproductive Health for Workers/Trainees in the Research Laboratory Setting mandates education and training regarding work place hazards and reproductive health for laboratory workers and trainees.

Specific educational information related to reproductive health is available.

Inherent Hazards

There are some potential hazards inherent in any work environment.  These include poor ergonomics, slips and falls, electrical safety hazards, etc.  UCSF has established various environmental health and safety guidelines and programs to address these potential hazards.  Additional information may be obtained through an EHS specialist, click here to find your EHS specialist.