Developing a Laboratory Animal
Allergen Exposure Prevention Program
• Over 50% of all animal-exposed workers currently have
laboratory animal allergies.
• If you have one animal allergy, you are more at risk to develop
• Rodents are responsible for the majority of laboratory animal allergies.
• You are more likely to develop a laboratory animal allergy if you have a
pre-existing allergy or are a smoker.
• The majority of laboratory animal allergies develop in the first three
years of exposure.
Some facts about lab animal allergens:
Here are some factors to consider when
developing an Exposure Prevention Program:
The things we do administratively and procedurally, including implementation of policies,
are referred to as administrative controls. One of the most important is a pre-placement
screening evaluation of employees for risk factors, such as symptoms or history of allergy
or asthma, or specific allergy to animals (pets or laboratory). Regular health surveillance is
recommended by both NIOSH and NIH.
Additional administrative controls to consider when developing your LAA prevention program are controlling
access and isolating the animal handling areas. Only a minimum number of workers should be authorized entrance and transport of animals should be well planned.
Be sure to segregate the “clean” tasks from the “dirty” ones. Choice of bedding material is also critical. For example, the NIH recommends using hypoallergenic
corncob or recycled wood product and wetting the bedding prior to changing or dumping to minimize allergen concentrations.
Facility Design and Operation
When designing or renovating the vivarium, think of ways to reduce laboratory animal allergies. Typically this focuses on the capture and removal of airborne
contaminants. Consider cubicle animal rooms or static pressure zones. Ventilation system design is especially important. Innovative ventilation designs
improve the dilution and removal of airborne contaminants.
Engineering Controls and Work Practices
Each staff member should avoid touching hands to face with or without gloves. Wash hands frequently before and after manipulating cages. Reduce the
exposure to allergens by using a hood, cage change station, or down draft table if available. Think about the kind of bedding you use. Shower out before
going home to make sure you are not carrying any allergens on your hair or skin into your car or home.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the most important item we can use to prevent or slow down exposure to LAA. The easiest of the PPE
items to use and help reduce allergen intake is a mask. But not just any mask: a dust mask or N95 mask. A normal surgery or exam mask will not
provide adequate protection.
Lab coats should be disposable and limited to species. Cloth lab coats, if used, must be laundered often. Gloves pulled over the lab coat sleeve
will help prevent skin contact. This is the minimum PPE to use, and if allergies have already developed then eye protection, shoe covers, and hair
covers should be considered.
Education and Training
Like administrative controls, education and training addresses the human element behind the causes of laboratory animal allergens. Workers
should be made aware of the risk of laboratory animal allergies. Laboratory room staff should receive training on standard operating procedures
(SOPs) for how to use the equipment, personal hygiene, personal protection, and housekeeping techniques. Most importantly, proper work
practices should be regularly reviewed.
Any laboratory Exposure Prevention Program (EPP) implemented should be regularly reviewed to maintain its effectiveness. Are there administrative controls that
need reconfiguring? Is there a design change that could increase worker safety? Are training SOPs falling short? Regular reviews of the program will keep ensure
that your EPP protects workers.
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