Animal User Health and Safety Program (AUHSP)

Cornell University has an Animal Users Health and Safety Program (AUHSP). The AUHSP evaluates the human-health risks associated with direct and indirect contact with animals used in research, testing, and teaching at Cornell. The objective of the AUHSP is to ensure that health risks for every individual are managed to an acceptable level. The AUHSP is predicated on the assessment of risk.

Responsibility for the AUHSP is shared by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), the Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA)Cornell Center for Animal Resources and Education (CARE)Cornell Health, and Environmental Health and Safety and Risk Management (EHS).

The AUHSP Coordinating Committee, comprised of the directors from the four administrative units and the Chair of the IACUC, is responsible for establishing institutional occupational health and safety policy and procedures for animal users and other individuals having direct or indirect contact with animals used in research and teaching.

Participants in the AUHSP program

Animal Care and veterinary staff is responsible for providing animal care and husbandry duties and veterinary care in one or more Cornell University animal facilities and have direct animal contact.

AUHSP Requirements:

  • Read the AUHSP information on the AUHSP website and signage in the facility.
  • Complete a Medical Evaluation Form and annually submit to Cornell Health
  • Comply with applicable safety procedures and wear required Personal Protective Equipment. Comply with the requirements for further medical preventative care including immunization and monitoring.
  • Engage in training as required by EHS and CARE.

People named to animal protocols may have direct and/or indirect contact with animals. All such individuals must be enrolled in the AUHSP and be cleared for working in an animal facility, prior to being given access to the facility. The AUHSP Working Group reviews each protocol for the use of hazardous materials and assigns a Risk level. This risk level is one factor in determining the level of medical surveillance required for the individual. Another factor is the personal risk level of the individual.

AUHSP Requirements:

  • Read the AUHSP information on the AUHSP website and on signage in the facility.
  • Complete a Risk Assessment Form, every three years, if the assigned Protocol risk level is Low.
  • Complete a Medical Evaluation Form, annually, if the assigned Protocol risk level is Moderate or High, or if the personal health information provided on the Risk Assessment Form requires further review by Cornell Health.
  • After review by Cornell Health of the individual’s personal risk and work hazards, Cornell Health will determine if any further medical preventative care or monitoring is required.
  • Comply with the applicable Animal Biosafety Procedure (ABP or approved Standard Operating Procedure.
  • Engage in other training as required by Cornell Health, EHS, CARE and the IACUC based on the personal and protocol risks established.

IACUC members are identified by the IACUC Administrative staff. Cornell Student volunteers are identified by the Volunteer Program Coordinator in CARE. Cornell employees with indirect contact are identified by facility managers and supervisors in Cornell PDC departments.

AUHSP Requirements:

  • Read the AUHSP information on the AUHSP website and on AUHSP signage in the facilities.
  • Complete a Risk Assessment Form (RAF) every three years.
  • Complete the Medical Evaluation Form annually if the personal health information provided on the RAF requires further review.

All visits to animal facilities must comply with the Animal Facility Visitation section of Cornell University Policy 1.4: Care and Use of Animals in Research and Teaching. Casual visitors may have indirect contact with animals. Casual visitors are identified by the facility manager.

AUHSP Requirements:

  • The animal facility manager, or designate, must meet with visitors before they enter an animal facility. Individuals will be advised that prior to entering an animal facility, they should consult with their personal health care provider if they have any medical conditions (immunocompromised, pregnant, allergies, etc.) that may increase their risk and to take appropriate precautions.
  • Potential risks associated with access to each animal facility are provided in verbal or written form and through signage.

AUHSP Requirements:

Cornell University will make a good faith effort to notify such individuals of their potential risks, the Cornell AUHSP, and their eligibility to enroll in the program. AUHSP informational posters and other relevant signage are posted at the entrance of animal procedure rooms outside of the vivaria. Enrollment in the AUHSP program is voluntary for these individuals.

Students enrolled in first year veterinary and Animal Sciences courses and Arts & Sciences courses that involve animal use, are provided with an introduction to the care and use of animals. This overview includes information on the IACUC, regulations governing animal care and use, mechanisms to direct concerns on the care and use of animals, and occupational health and safety issues.

AUHSP Requirements:

  • Students are informed, as part of the course, about occupational health and safety issues. The occupational health and safety portion consists of information on the AUHSP, physical, chemical, and protocol related hazards, allergens, and zoonosis.
  • Students are advised to contact Cornell Health Office, prior to working with animals or entering an animal facility if they have any medical conditions (immunocompromised, pregnant, allergies, etc.) that may increase their risk.

Students are informed about potential risks and sign a waiver form prior to participation.

Contractors are identified by the Facility Staff and/or the Planning, Design and Engineering Unit at Cornell. Contractors are provided access to the facility by the animal facility manager, or designee. These individuals may have indirect contact with animals and direct or indirect contact with animal products.

AUHSP Requirements:

Occupational Health and Safety considerations for outside contractors are addressed as part of the agreement with the contracting firms. The agreement requires that the Contracting firm inform the contracted individuals of the hazards present or likely to be present in the facility and take appropriate occupational health and safety measures for those individuals prior to commencement of their work in those facilities.

Potential risks associated with access to each animal facility are also provided through signage posted in animal facilities.

Personnel making deliveries to animal care and use facilities are generally not permitted into the facilities. These individuals will have no contact with animals. Deliveries to animal facilities are left on the animal facility loading dock, or designated facility entrance, and transferred into the animal facility by animal care staff. When delivery personnel must enter the animal facility, they will follow the procedures for casual visitors or contractors.

Risk Assessment involves a review of the type of work, materials used, degree of animal contact and the risk associated with the animal species.

Risk Assessment Form

There are two types of risk assessment:

  1. Protocol risk is based on animal health status, biohazards, radiation/radioisotope use/hazardous chemicals etc. Protocol risk assessment is determined by members of the AUHSP working group that is comprised of members from Cornell Health, EHS and CARE. Protocol risk is categorized as low, medium, or high.
    1. Low Risk: When a low probability or low severity of adverse health effects exists. For example, work with SPF mice on a nutritional trial.
    2. Low Risk: When a low probability or low severity of adverse health effects exists. For example, work with SPF mice on a nutritional trial.
    3. Moderate Risk: When a moderate or high probability and moderate severity of health effects exists. For example work with dairy cattle, which might harbor ringworm or Cryptosporidium.
    4. High Risk: Any probability with high severity of disease exists. For example, work with wild caught raccoons which might harbor rabies.
  2. Personal risk is based on a person’s medical history in concert with the hazards they are exposed to in the work place.

There are two tools by which personal risk is assessed:

  1. Risk Assessment Form - Individuals considered to be at low risk will receive an email containing a link to the Risk Assessment Form. To complete the form, click on the link in the email, and sign in using your NetID and password. If you don't have a Cornell NetID, use the email address and password that was included in the email. Once you submit the form, you will either receive an approval email or will be contacted by Cornell Health for additional information or to complete an online Medical Evaluation Form (MEF).
  2. Medical Evaluation - Individuals considered to be at moderate or high risk will be contacted by Cornell Health and provided with a medical evaluation form, and asked for any additional follow-up information. For more information, please visit the Occupational Medicine website or contact the Occupational Medicine Department (Cornell Health) at 607-255-6960.

The Safety Education component of this program provides information related to animal contact, related health and safety precautions, and promotes safe working practices. This information is provided through online and in person training and consultation, signage and information on websites.

Sources for Safety Education and Training

Safety Training offered by EHS via CU Learn

  • Bloodborne Pathogen Training
  • Laboratory Safety Training
  • Fire Safety Training
  • Radiation Safety Training
  • And others

Safety Online courses offered by the IACUC Office via AALAS Learning Library

  • ABSL-2 Training for Rodent Users
  • Laboratory Animal Allergy

The Training component requires all personnel utilizing and/or handling animals for research and teaching at Cornell University must be adequately trained, educated and qualified in the principles of laboratory animal science and lab safety, the specific procedures that they are expected to perform with the species of animals being used, their roles and responsibilities in ensuring the humane care and use of animals, and the ethical principles and University policies and procedures governing the use of animals in research, testing and teaching.

Training requirements for personnel involved in animal care and use are determined by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The IACUC is responsible for ensuring ongoing compliance with those requirements. Click here for the IACUC policy on training and education for animal users.

Cornell Center for Animal Resources and Education (CARE) is responsible for managing the training and education of the animal users. For education resources available with CARE.

Medical Surveillance is the process of monitoring the health of employees, students and others as it relates to their potential occupational exposures to hazardous agents and animals and their products. Since exposure to animals may result in allergies or disease transmission, preventative and monitoring procedures are determined based on individual health status and on the type and frequency of hazard exposure.

Occupational Health Medical Surveillance Program

Cornell’s AUHSP’s medical surveillance program was designed for individuals having recurrent or one time animal contact during the execution of their responsibilities supporting University-sponsored activities. The program is intended to comply with the recommendations made by The Committee on Occupational Safety and Health in Research Animal Facilities, The Institute for Laboratory Animal Resources Council, and The Commission on Life Sciences. These published recommendations are documented in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, (National Research Council; National Academy Press; Washington DC; 1996) and Occupational Health and Safety in the Care and Use of Research Animals (National Research Council; National Academy Press; Washington DC; 1997).

For more information, please visit the Occupational Medicine website or contact the Occupational Medicine Department (Cornell Health) at 607-255-6960.

Risk Management

  • Maintain restricted access to the laboratory, animal facility, and animal procedure areas.
  • Follow requirements for entry and exit for posted areas at all times.
  • Use good personal hygiene:
    • Wash hands after animal contact and before leaving the laboratory or animal facility.
    • Do not eat, drink, smoke, handle contact lenses, or apply cosmetics in work areas, and wash hands before engaging in any of these activities.
  • Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as recommended. Lab coats or coveralls are required when working with animals; additional PPE, such as gloves, shoe coverings or a facemask may also be necessary in laundered.
  • Protect yourself from exposure to inhalation of aerosols by incorporating appropriate engineering controls (e.g. use work stations).
  • Minimize splashes and aerosols.
  • Isolate sick or infected animals whenever possible and handle and care for them last.
  • Decontaminate equipment and work surfaces at least once a day and always after any spill of viable material.
  • Dispose of waste appropriately. Contaminated bedding, animal carcasses, animal products, or items contaminated by animal products should be disposed of by following recommended guidelines.
  • Contaminated sharps should always be disposed of in a Biohazard Sharps Container. Additional information about precautions when working with sharp objects can be found in "Sharps Precautions".

Hazards identified during animal protocol review:

The AUHSP Working Group, includes the Biosafety Officer from EHS, an occupational medicine professional from Cornell Health and a CARE veterinarian. The Group holds monthly meetings to evaluate all Protocol Review Forms for the Use of Vertebrate Animals and Animal Use Protocol Minor Amendment Forms submitted for IACUC approval, to identify occupational health and safety concerns. Recommendations and requirements related to occupational health and safety of personnel involved in the animal work are communicated to the PI as part of the protocol review comments.

Allergies

Individuals with preexisting allergic conditions face a greater risk of developing allergies to animals. Typical allergens include animal urine, saliva, dander, and hair. Most common symptoms include nasal discharge, itchy eyes, and skin rashes. If ignored, reactions can lead to more severe symptoms, such as asthma (cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath) and may persist beyond the period of animal exposure. In extreme cases, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions can occur.

Exposure to animal allergens should be limited in order to prevent the development of allergies. Some aspects of facility design help minimize exposures to allergens. Ventilation in animal rooms usually allows for 100% fresh air with 10 to 15 air changes per hour. In order to help reduce the load of environmental allergens, ventilated hoods or workstations are used for emptying used cages; also animals can be housed in filter top cages. Personal protective equipment (e.g. masks, gloves) and personal hygiene are important barriers to animal allergen exposure. Note that surgical disposable masks may not be effective against allergens. Properly fitted respirators will provide superior protection. In this case, participation in fit testing and medical clearance is essential.

Animal bites, kicks and scratches

Bites and scratches are the most common physical hazards encountered when working with animals, especially with dogs, cats, or rodents. Kicks and crushing injuries occur more frequently with larger species, such as horses or cows. In many cases, these physical hazards are preventable by following safe practices to ensure proper animal handling. An accident may appear to be inconsequential, but complications may result, due to contamination of the wound. Of special concern are venomous species, which require a comprehensive review of safety precautions and emergency care prior to handling. Recommendations on how to proceed in the case of an animal-related injury are provided in ACUP 707 - Animal Related Injury.

Sharps

Sharps pose a risk for personnel working with animals. Special care is needed when using needles and scalpel blades to avoid injuries. Puncture-resistant, leakproof disposal containers need to be available wherever sharps are used. Special recommendations on the safe handling and disposal of sharps are posted in Sharps Precautions.

Chemical Hazards

Chemical hazards such as disinfectants, fixatives, pesticides, anesthetic gases, as well as toxic chemicals, are commonly used for experimental purposes and require conscious handling. When using chemicals, personnel should wear appropriate protective equipment, and be familiar with the information summarized in the specific Material Safety Data Sheets. For recommendations on specific chemicals, consult with the Office of Laboratory and Chemical Safety of the Department of EHS.

Radiation

Radiation is another hazard for those exposed to X rays, gamma rays, or radioactive isotopes. Appropriate training and the use of personnel protective equipment are required. The Office of Radiation Safety of the Department of EHS at Cornell University should be contacted for assistance before using radioactive materials in animal facilities or if an accidental exposure occurs.

Noise

Animals, such as pigs or dogs, and equipment, like pressure washers or cage washers, can cause intense noise. Personnel exposed to noise levels exceeding 85 dBA must be part of the Hearing Conservation Program as legally mandated by the Federal Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). If engineering controls are not successful at mitigating the noise, hearing protection devices, such as earplugs or earmuffs, should be worn. Look here for additional information about the Hearing Conservation Program at Cornell University.

Ergonomics

Repetitive motion and lifting of heavy loads can pose a hazard in animal facilities. Repetitive motion, such as cleaning cages by hand, results in the repetition of small stresses that may lead to cumulative injuries. Lifting heavy bags of food or large animals contribute to back injuries. Tasks must be varied to reduce the number of repetitions. Properly designed equipment should be used to assist with lifting of heavy loads. Refer to the Cornell University Musculoskeletal Injury Prevention Program site for more information

Unless experimentally infected with a zoonotic agent, research animals generally carry a limited number of infectious microorganisms of concern to animal users. This is mainly due to the existence of preventative medicine programs and the frequent use of specific pathogen free animals in research projects. Although infrequent, the risk of infection between research animals and humans does exist and must be recognized in order to avoid exposure. For example, dogs or cats may shed Giardia in their feces, rodents naturally carry a bacteria that causes rat-bite fever in humans, wild-caught mammals might be infected with the rabies virus, and Salmonella could be shed by a number of domestic and wild species, from reptiles to cows.

Infectious agents generally pose a higher risk to immunosuppressed people, pregnant women, children, and the elderly. Special care must be taken to avoid contact between vulnerable people and infectious agents of animal origin. AUHSP requires that for each animal protocol, researchers make themselves familiar with and follow the safety procedures and precautions necessary to minimize the risk of infection from zoonotic agents. The following information sheets are provided as a resource to Cornell researchers, and can be referenced in animal use protocols.

Species Specific Zoonotic Risks Information Sheets

External Resources

Reporting a AUHSP problem accordion

  • Notify your supervisor about the following events:
    • you become aware of a sick or dead animal
    • you have a fever, diarrhea, or other symptoms that could be associated with zoonotic diseases, biohazards or other hazardous materials that you work with.
  • Notify Cornell Health for advice on direct and indirect animal exposure if you are or become immunocompromised.
  • Notify CARE about animals with diseases that are potentially transmissible to humans.
  • If you are ill or injured, seek medical attention at Cornell Health or inform your physician that you work with animals and may be exposed to zoonotic diseases. Have your physician contact the Occupational Medicine Office regarding your illness or injury.

Report promptly any accidents, illnesses and zoonotic diseases on the Cornell University Accident Report form.