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Occupational Health

The University of Virginia provides an Occupational Health and Safety Program for individuals who have animal contact in the course of their employment, training or studies. This risk-based program is designed to prevent occupational illness and injury through elements of hazard identification and risk assessment; medical evaluation and surveillance; education and training; and engineering and work practice control measures. A brief description of each element is provided below.

Oversight and Management

A dedicated occupational health oversight committee constituted with members of various institutional departments continually reviews the scope, function, and effectiveness of the occupational health and safety program. As key participants in this oversight committee, UVa WorkMed and the Elson Student Health Center provide medical services based on recommendations set forth in the NIH “Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals” (National academy Press 1996) and "Occupational Health and Safety in the Care and Use of Research Animals" (National Research Council, 1997).

Hazard Identification & Risk Assessment

Hazard identification and risk assessment is a dynamic, ongoing process performed throughout the animal care and use program by a range of personnel and committees. Cornerstone elements are briefly described below, including protocol review; specialized committee evaluations, routine facility inspections; and medical assessment and surveillance.

The Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC) protocol submission form queries investigators regarding potential use of biological agents, hazardous chemicals, and radioisotopes. Protocols involving the use of biological agents or radioisotopes require pre-approval from specialized committees (i.e., Institutional Biosafety Committee and Radiation Safety Committee, respectively) prior to ACUC approval. Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) specialists assist with evaluating proposals or activities involving unique hazards (e.g. UV light, noise, lasers, electrical hazards, compressed gas, etc.).

Routine facility inspections are performed by ACUC, EHS, and Office of Animal Welfare (OAW) staff to provide ongoing hazard and risk assessment, as well as to assess the adequacy of control measures. Medical professionals contribute to the comprehensive risk assessment process by evaluating the health status of the individual with respect to particular animal species contacted, potential exposure to harmful materials or activities, and the nature and extent of the contact with the animal.

Medical Evaluation & Surveillance

The Occupational Health portion of the University’s Occupational Health and Safety Program is based on the risk of exposure to animals and hazardous conditions. Individuals covered by the program include faculty, staff, students, and volunteers or visitors who have exposure to vertebrate animals, animal tissues, body fluids, or wastes.

All University faculty, staff and students who have contact with vertebrate animals are required to participate in the occupational health program. Principal investigators are responsible for making sure that all personnel who have contact with animals are named on their ACUC protocols, and that those personnel complete all medical surveillance requirements. All participants are required to have an initial meeting and medical evaluation with a medical professional prior to engaging in the care and use of animals. At the initial evaluation, the medical professional reviews medical questionnaire responses and a computer-generated user profile which details the animal species and hazardous agents approved for use; profile data is compiled from ACUC, IBC and EHS database. This interaction allows the medical professional to discuss risks for conditions such as allergies, zoonotic diseases, infections, or other adverse health effects based on individualized occupational exposure, as well as any symptoms he or she may be experiencing or concerns he or she may have. At the conclusion of the evaluation, the medical professional determines the individual to be either (1) medically eligible to perform the stated activities without restriction (2) medically eligible to perform the stated activities with additional requirements (e.g. respiratory protection or vaccination), or (3) deemed medically ineligible to perform the stated activities. The medical professional’s disposition for each individual is entered into a shared database. The ACUC Office monitors and enforces compliance with the medical surveillance requirement. Protocols are not approved if they contain the name(s) of animal handlers who are not compliant.

Individuals with isolated one-time contact (e.g. participation in training sessions), visitors and other personnel with incidental animal contact are advised of specific health risks, related precautions and recommendations through a Risk Acknowledgement Form, but are not be required to formally enroll in the Medical Evaluation and Surveillance portion of the program.

Occupational Health Program Medical Services

Medical Evaluation Procedure

Nonhuman Primate

All Others

Initial and Annual Review of Medical Questionnaire



Risk Awareness Training



Tetanus/Diphtheria Toxoid (if clinically indicated)



TB Skin Testing (PPD)

Twice a Year

TB Research Only 

TB Screening


  TB Research Only

Measles (Rubeola) Screening/Immunization



Viral Hepatitis Counseling/ Voluntary Vaccination



Monkey B-Virus Counseling



Baseline Serum Collection/Storage



Rabies Immunization (if clinically indicated)


Select Wild Animals

Q Fever Counseling/ Treatment


Sheep Only

Toxoplasmosis serum screen


Cats: Pregnant women only

Respiratory Protection Clearance (including PFT) & Fit Testing

As indicated by exposure and clinical evaluation

Baseline Audiometry

Dogs, others as indicated by EHS

Vaccinia Counseling

Vaccinia Research Only

ABSL3 Clearance

ABSL3 Research Only

Treatment of Work-Related Injury/Illness



Education & Training

Prior to participating in procedures involving contact with animals, personnel are required to complete a medical evaluation by meeting with a medical professional. During the meeting, medical personnel discuss risk factors and distribute educational materials relevant to the individual’s work. The educational materials provide information about risks, symptoms, and responses for personnel who may not have medical or scientific backgrounds. The following brochures are currently available: Exposure Control Practices for Animal Handlers: Protecting Your Health; Allergies to Laboratory Animals: A Significant Health Risk; Monkey B Virus: A Guide to the Causes, Transmission, and Prevention of Cercophithecine herpesviruses; Zoonoses Associated with Swine: Protecting Your Health; Zoonotic Considerations for Frog Handlers; Zoonoses Associated with Sheep and Goats

The Office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) provides safety education and oversight of chemical, radioactive, biological, and other occupational hazards. There are mandatory educational sessions for all hazardous substances as well as general laboratory safety education programs. All University personnel have access to this training.

Personnel engaged in animal research attend a mandatory Orientation Seminar taught by the Office of Animal Welfare. A segment of the Orientation Seminar is entitled “Working Safety with Animals at UVa” which is designed to augment EHS training and is tailored to the use and control of risks as they apply to the animal care and use environment. A broad spectrum of issues are presented, including risks and controls for halogenated anesthetic gases, formaldehyde and other chemicals commonly used in animal work; allergen exposure and methods of control; methods of hazard communication (e.g. cage labeling and communication with vivarium staff); zoonoses; sharps injury prevention; medical consultation and incident reporting procedures.

The Center for Comparative Medicine has standard operating procedures pertaining to ABSL2 studies, cage changing of rodents inoculated with radioisotopic material, proper use of chemical agents, and other practices which involve hazardous agents. Vivarium supervisors ensure that personnel entering areas where hazardous materials are used are informed of vivarium-specific procedures.

Personnel working with non-human primates are informed of the specific hazards associated with these animals, in particular Cercopithecine herpesvirus 1 infection (Monkey B virus, Herpesvirus simiae). Personnel are required to complete LATA training modules and view “Working Safely with Nonhuman Primates" produced by the NIH Office of Animal Care and Use. This video has a strong emphasis on proper use of personal protective equipment combined with understanding non-human primate behavior, and the general principles are applicable to any program that houses non-human primates. Additional in-house training is provided by veterinary staff and includes information about what precautions must be taken prior to handling primates, including immobilization, protective clothing, and procedures to follow in case of a bite, scratch, or other exposure.

Work Practice & Engineering Control Measures

Detailed work practice and engineering control measures are specified in relevant ACUC policies (e.g. Occupational Health and Safety in the Care and Use of Research Animals) and protocols. Some fundamental measures applicable to nearly all animal care and use activities are described below.

Hand washing is recommended after handling animals and prior to leaving animal care and use areas. In areas where sinks are not available in the immediate vicinity, hand sanitizer dispensing stations are typically provided to readily facilitate infection control until proper hand washing facilities become available.

Laboratory coats, scrub tops, gowns, disposable coveralls, or other garments are worn as appropriate to protect street clothes from contamination when handling animals. Gloves are worn whenever handling animals, their fluids, tissues, excreta, or soiled bedding to reduce exposure to allergens and potentially zoonotic agents. Protective equipment such as head covers, shoe covers, eye protection, hearing protection, surgical masks and respirators may be required as determined by risk assessment. Personnel who use respirators are enrolled in the University Respiratory Protection Program managed by EHS. Essential elements of this program include medical clearance, respirator selection and fit testing, and training. Protective clothing and equipment is not worn beyond the boundary of animal work areas.

Sharps precautions are rigidly enforced, as are methods to minimize human exposure to biological agents and hazardous experimental or laboratory chemicals (e.g. anesthetic gases, tissue fixatives). EHS tracks and manages certification of all chemical fumehoods and biological safety cabinets used to protect personnel.

Injury and Illness

All occupational exposures, injuries, illnesses, animal bites and scratches, needle sticks, allergic reactions, accidents, etc., are to be immediately reported to the supervisor. UVa WorkMed (243-0075) or Student Health (924-5362)should be contacted to determine if medical attention is warranted. After hours incidents or incidents requiring immediate medical attention should be referred to the Hospital Emergency Room. Individuals who observe conditions or work practices that pose a potential risk should notify their supervisor. Supervisors should communicate these observations to Environmental Health & Safety (982-4911) for further investigation and potential mitigation.