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Introduction and General Information

There are a variety of potential hazards to human health and safety associated with oil spill response, including physical hazards, toxicity, psychological hazards such as burn-out, and zoonoses.
  • It is important to recognise that any oil spill response operation is a potentially hazardous working environment. (B363.2.w2)
  • Stress and fatigue are general hazards of oiled wildlife response. (D183.w8)
  • Human safety must be the first priority in oiled wildlife response, with the safety of the oiled casualty as the next priority. (B335.14.w14, D9, D133.2.w2, D133.3.w3, D183.w8, J29.8.w1)
    • It should be remembered, by anyone temped to take risks with their own safety, that if they are injured or incapacitated then resources will have to be diverted to assist them and that such incidents may lead to further rescue efforts being stopped. (D137)
    • Personnel should also be reminded that if they are ill or injured then they will not be able to care for the wildlife which they are trying to help. (B335.14.w14)
  • Safety risks can be minimised if all personnel follow instructions, wear appropriate safety gear, use common sense and think about what they are doing. (D9)

Human health and safety hazards usually present the greatest risk during the first phases of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, such as collection of oiled casualties. (D135.2.w2)

  • Risks to human health can be minimised by awareness of potential hazards, by training, and by the use of appropriate personal protective equipment.
  • It is important to ensure that all legal requirements relating to human health and safety have been met, and that all potential risks have been identified and appropriate measures taken to minimise those risks. (B363.2.w2)
  • Individuals working on site must be informed about, and understand, the health risks associated with both exposure to chemicals and caring for wild animals. (B363.2.w2, P24.335.w12)
  • Good personal hygiene, knowledge of animal handling techniques and appropriate protective equipment, as well as current tetanus vaccination, are all important. (P24.335.w12)
  • Appropriate precautions must be taken to prevent chemical or pathogen contamination of either staff or volunteers. (B363.2.w2)
  • For each working area/task of work, risk assessments need to be made (D183.w8) and safety protocols should be developed, written, and displayed in all relevant areas. (B363.2.w2)
    • Risk assessments should allow development of a site safety plan covering all parts of the oiled wildlife response site. (D183.w8)
  • Safety can be maximised by understanding and practicing the maintenance of safe working conditions and procedures, by understanding occupational health, understanding the potential hazards associated with working with oiled wildlife, wearing adequate personal protective equipment and practicing good general personal hygiene. (D183.w8)

Many of the hazards which must be considered in oiled wildlife rehabilitation, particularly hazards associated with the working environment during search and collection operations, are the same as those which must be considered in general oil spill response and are described in D181 - Oil Spill Responder Safety Guide- IPIECA Report Series Volume 11 (Full text provided)

Both staff and volunteers should be made aware, during induction or training before starting work, of safe work practices, including:

  • Compliance with workplace health and safety legislation;
  • Understanding Material Safety Data Sheets, and interpretation of these;
  • Safe use of protective clothing and of equipment;
  • Safe animal handling techniques;
  • Hazards of zoonoses, and measures to prevent these;
  • How potentially hazardous incidents should be reported;
  • Where First Aid is available;
  • Signs and symptoms of poisoning in humans;
  • Environmental waste management regulations.


Basic safety equipment (e.g. fire extinguishers) should be available on site. (B363.2.w2)


  • All personnel should have regular rest and meal breaks, with adequate rest hours between shifts, and adequate days off, weekly. (B363.2.w2)
  • Pregnant women should not work directly with oiled wildlife due to potential harmful effects of zoonoses and petroleum hydrocarbons on the fetus. (B335.14.w14)
  • Individuals who are immuno-compromised should seek medical advice before working with animals. (B363.2.w2)
  • Individuals who are ill or who are on medication which may negatively affect their natural immunity should not work with oiled wildlife. (D183.w8)
  • All personnel must have current tetanus immunisation (within the last ten years, or as medically advised). (B363.2.w2, D135.2.w2)
  • It is important to clarify who is has ultimate responsibility (and liability) for the operation of a response plan. It is also important to clarify who is responsible for ensuring adequate insurance cover for all personnel involved in oiled wildlife response: this may for example be arranged at the level of wildlife response or be part of "blanket" cover for the whole oil spill response operation. (D183.w8)
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Physical Hazards

There are a number of physical hazards associated with oiled wildlife response. Environmental hazards may arise from the weather, tides, poor light conditions, rockfalls, the presence of slippery surfaces such as weed-covered rocks, and quicksands. Additionally, there are hazards relating to the handling of wildlife casualties.
  • It is important to watch out and be conscious of potential risks in order to minimise the chances of slipping, tripping and falling. (D9)
  • It is important to remember that wildlife casualties are not used to being handled, are likely to react aggressively to human interference, and can themselves be hazardous: beaks of birds, teeth of mammals and claws of both should be treated with respect. Eyes should always be protected and the handler should remember that wild animals may move powerfully and unexpectedly. Any cuts and scratches from wild animals may act as a source of infection and should be treated immediately. (D9, D183.w8, V.w5)

Hazard reduction:

  • The risks from physical hazards can be reduced to a large extent by forethought, training and the correct use of personal protective equipment.
  • Experienced personnel should teach safe handling techniques to less experienced personnel. (B363.2.w2)
  • Use of proper handling techniques with wild animals will minimise the risks of traumatic injuries to humans from the animals. (P24.327.w4)

Hazards during search & collection

Hazards which personnel should be aware of include those associated with the wildlife casualty (its bill, feet, and wings), the environment (affected by tide, weather, light conditions, also slippery rocks, possibility of rockfalls and quicksands), and human factors such as fatigue, wind-chill and hypothermia and sunburn and heat-stroke. (D137)
  • Personnel should be aware of temperature and weather conditions before undertaking search and collection, and should wear appropriate clothing and equipment. (D135.2.w2)
  • High winds and driving rain, sleet or snow, heavy seas and high tides are hazards which may arise. Limits (e.g. wind force, tide levels) may be set on conditions in which attempting wildlife rescue may be made. (P14.4.w8)
  • Appropriate communication equipment - mobile telephones and/or radios - should be carried. (D137)

The following hazards should be considered and appropriate steps taken to minimise them:

  • Rockfalls
    • Prevention: Avoid the base of cliffs, wear a hard-hat if working near cliffs, make use of local knowledge regarding risks. (D137)
  • Quicksand
    • Prevention: Make use of local knowledge regarding risks. (D137)
    • Keep off areas of mud. (D9)
  • Tripping/slipping on rocks (D183.w8)
    • Prevention: Risk of slipping can be reduced by awareness of the hazard and by wearing waders or sturdy boots with non-slip soles. (D9, D135.2.w2, D137)
    • Shores may be covered in oil. (P14.4.w8) Extra care should be taken when walking on oily beaches. (D9)
  • Falling into water, drowning. (B20.13.w10, D183.w8)
    • If collecting casualties from water then all the hazards of working on small boats apply, and appropriate small-vessel safety precautions need to be followed. (D9)
    • Prevention: 
      • Prior information about tides, undertows, sudden drop-offs and other dangerous areas. (D135.2.w2, D137)
      • Nobody who cannot swim should work near water.
      • Wear lifejackets (personal flotation devices) when working on or near water. (D159.III.w3, D160.4.w4)
      • Always have at least two people working together. (D135.2.w2)
      • Small-vessel safety precautions should be followed if casualties are being captured on water. (D9)
  • Hyperthermia. (B20.13.w10, D183.w8)
    • Prevention: Personnel should be aware of temperature and weather conditions before undertaking search and collection, and should wear appropriate clothing and equipment. (D135.2.w2)
      • The risk of hyperthermia can be minimised by layering clothing and removing layers as appropriate to prevent overheating, take frequent rest breaks in hot weather and ensure that you drink sufficient fluids even if not feeling thirsty. Each person should watch for symptoms in themselves and in other people. (D9, D133.3.w3, D135.2.w2)
  • Hypothermia and wind-chill (B20.13.w10, D183.w8)
    • Symptoms include shivering, numbness, drowsiness and muscular weakness. (D9)
    • Prevention: Personnel should be aware of temperature and weather conditions before undertaking search and collection, and should wear appropriate clothing and equipment. (D135.2.w2)
      • All individuals should wear appropriate warm clothing which will also keep them dry, carry a flask containing a warm drink, avoid sitting on cold ground and watch for symptoms in themselves and other people. (D9, D133.3.w3, D135.2.w2, D137)
    • Treatment: Get the affected individual out of wind and rain, warm them up, keep them awake and seek medical attention promptly. (D9)
  • Sunburn, sunstroke and heatstroke. (D183.w8)
    • Prevention: Minimise the risk of sunburn by wearing a long-sleeved top and long-legged trousers (pants), also sunscreen and a sunhat as appropriate. (D133.3.w3, D135.2.w2); use layered clothing and remove layers as appropriate to avoid heatstroke. (D137)
  • Dehydration
    • Prevention: Take water, or on a cold day a hot drink, to the rescue site. Drinking water should be readily available. (D133.3.w3)
    • Supervisors should be aware of this risk and should encourage personnel to drink sufficiently. (B363.2.w2)
  • Fatigue
    • Prevention: Know your limits. (D137)
    • Supervisors should be aware of the risks of exhaustion and must ensure that personnel take regular breaks. (B363.2.w2)
  • Falling (B20.13.w10)
    • Do not climb cliffs. (D9)
  • Cuts and bruises from rocks.
  • Injuries from the animal casualties including bites, pecks, talon injuries, scratches, being hit by wings etc. (D137, D183.w8REF) (B20.13.w10)
    • Prevention: 
      • Ensure casualties are handled by experienced personnel with good handling technique.(D135.2.w2,D137, B20.13.w10)
        • Personnel to be involved in wild animal capture should be adequately trained. (B363.5.w5)
        • Untrained volunteers should not be allowed to handle casualties. (D183.w8)
        • Collection of raptors should be undertaken only by experienced personnel. (D135.2.w2)
      • Hold birds at or below waist level, never near anyone's face. (B363.5.w5, D135.2.w2)
      • Wear appropriate protective clothing such as long sleeves, gloves and goggles. (B20.13.w10, B363.5.w5, D135.2.w2, D160.5.w5, D137)
      • Take special precautions when handling species such as herons which tend to stab at the eyes. (B363.5.w5)
    • Treatment: any bite or scratch should be cleaned and treated immediately and reported to the appropriate supervisor. (D9)
    • Note: Mammals can cause severe lacerations and broken bones. (D183.w8)
    • There is also a risk of back injury while lifting heavy animals. (D183.w8)

Hazards within the Rehabilitation Facility

  • Dehydration
    • This risk is increased when working in oiled wildlife rehabilitation because the environment is generally kept warm or hot to help affected birds maintain their body temperature. (B363.2.w2)
    • Prevention: 
      • Do not neglect to drink, particularly in breaks between washing birds.
      • Supervisors should be aware of this risk and should encourage personnel to drink sufficiently. (B363.2.w2)
      • Personnel working in washrooms are at particular risk and should be given sufficient rest breaks, provided with plentiful drinks and encouraged to drink adequate quantities, to prevent exhaustion and dehydration. (B363.10.w10, D133.6.w6)
  • Fatigue
    • Prevention: Know your limits. (D137)
    • Supervisors should be aware of the risks of exhaustion and must ensure that personnel take regular breaks. (B363.2.w2)
  • Risks of injuries from the animal casualties including bites, pecks, talon injuries, scratches, being hit by wings etc. (D137, P24.327.w4, B20.13.w10)
    • Prevention: 
      • Ensure casualties are handled by experienced personnel with good handling technique. (D135.2.w2, D137, B20.13.w10, B335.14.w14)
        • Untrained volunteers should not be allowed to handle casualties. (D183.w8)
        • Collection of raptors should be undertaken only by experienced personnel. (D135.2.w2)
        • Individuals handling potentially dangerous mammals must be properly trained and supervised, and should not proceed with any action if they are unsure about the activity they are performing. (B335.14.w14)
      • Hold birds at or below waist level, never near anyone's face. (D135.2.w2)
      • Wear appropriate protective clothing such as long sleeves, gloves and goggles. (D135.2.w2, D137, B20.13.w10)
    • Note: Scratches, cuts, bite wounds etc. should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly with an antiseptic and dressed appropriately to reduce the risk of infection. (P24.327.w4, D160.5.w5)
      • Medical attention is required for more serious wounds. (D160.5.w5)
    • Note: Mammals can cause severe lacerations and broken bones. (D183.w8)
    • There is also a risk of back injury while lifting heavy animals. (D183.w8)
  • Risks of slipping on wet floors.
    • This can be reduced by wearing appropriate footwear and by the provision of traction floor mats in areas, such as the bird washing area, where the floor is likely to get wet. (D135.6.w6)
  • General risk of tripping and falling. (D183.w8)
  • Risks of needle-stick injury when giving injections or taking blood samples. (D183.w8)
    • "Sharps" must be stored in appropriate containers and disposed of properly. (P14.3.w12)
  • Heat stress. (D183.w8)
  • Electrical injury; risk of electrocution if water comes into contact with electricity outlets or cables. (D135.6.w6, D183.w8)
  • Thermal burns. (D183.w80
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Toxic Hazards

Oil can be toxic to humans as well as to animals. There is a danger of both contact irritation and inhalation of fumes of volatile oil components. (B20.13.w10, D137, D183.w8, J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
  • Risks from fumes are greatest early in the spill and in confined spaces. (D183.w8)
  • Depending on the petroleum product involved, there may be large amounts of dangerous volatile compounds such as benzene, toluene, xylene, hydrogen sulphide or sulphur dioxide. (B20.13.w10)
  • Other toxic chemicals which may be present include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), furans, and heavy metals such as vanadium and arsenic. (B20.13.w10)
  • Benzene, toluene, hexane and similar highly toxic chemicals, being volatile, are most likely to be present in the early phases of an oil spill. However these compounds may persist in very cold conditions or if petroleum product become trapped in soil or sediment. (B20.13.w10)

If possible, information about the nature of the oil should be obtained prior to the oiled wildlife response. (D137)

  • In most cases by the time oiled wildlife casualties are being collected, oil will have aged, with many of the volatile components evaporated. (P14.3.w12)
    • Volatile components such as benzene may be retained by "wicking" into bird body feathers. (P14.3.w12)

The main risks associated with aged crude oil are:

  • Contact dermatitis. Skin irritation due to oil exposure is seen acutely and disappears over a few days. (P14.3.w12)
    • Absorption of oil components may be facilitated across traumatised skin. (P14.3.w12)
  • Increased risk of skin cancer due to contact with polyaromatic hydrocarbon compounds. (P14.3.w12)
  • Eye irritation due to contact of the eyes with oil droplets. (P14.3.w12)
    • Some compounds found in petroleum oil may be absorbed across the cornea. (P14.3.w12)
  • Hazardous compounds or hazardous contaminants such as PCBs or organophosphate compounds. (P14.3.w12)

Signs of petroleum exposure in humans 

  • General signs of petroleum toxicity may include breathing difficulties, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, difficulty in concentrating, weakness, fatigue and lack of energy, chills and an upset stomach, odours and a strange taste in the mouth, headache, ringing in the ears and a tight chest. (B363.2.w2, D9)
  • Inhalation of volatile petroleum hydrocarbons can cause respiratory distress (breathing difficulties), nausea and dizziness. (B363.2.w2, D9, B335.14.w14)
    • Individuals developing such symptoms should inform their supervisor and leave the area where exposure occurred. (B335.14.w14)
    • If symptoms persist past several hours, medical attention should be sought. (B335.14.w14)
  • Absorption may occur following direct contact with petroleum hydrocarbons. (B335.14.w14)
    • Direct irritation may occur, particularly on sensitive areas around the eyes, nose and mouth. (B335.14.w14)
      • Signs of direct irritation may include a burning sensation/stinging of the eyes or skin, which may be reddened or sore; (D9, B363.2.w2)
    • Puncture wounds may provide a route by which petroleum hydrocarbons can enter the body. (B335.14.w14)
    • Exposed areas should be washed immediately with soap and water. (B335.14.w14)
    • If oil enters an eye, the eye should be flushed for 15 minutes, the supervisor should be noted and first aid should be sought. (B335.14.w14)
    • Appropriate gloves and safety glasses/goggles/face shield should be worn to minimise the risks of absorbing these chemicals while handling oiled wildlife. (B335.14.w14)
  • Ingestion of significant quantities of petroleum products is unlikely. If ingested, nausea, vomiting and dizziness may occur. The supervisor should be notified and immediate medical attention sought. Induction of vomiting is contraindicated. (B335.14.w14)

If any of the above are noted:

  • Move the affected individual into an area of fresh air;
  • Remove any contaminated clothing and wash any contaminated skin;
  • Loosen tight clothing;
  • If the eyes have been splashed, flush these with water and continue this for 15 minutes
  • Seek medical advice: on site, locally, or from the appropriate Information Center.


Precautions to minimise petroleum exposure in humans:

Precautions must be taken to minimise exposure to petroleum products. (P14.3.w12)

Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Risks of exposure to petroleum products can be minimised by wearing appropriate protective clothing (D9) including: 
    • Chemical protective clothing (petroleum impermeable) (e.g. coated Tyvek, Saranex); (B20.13.w10, D135.2.w2, J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
    • Petroleum-resistant gloves: neoprene or nitrile rubber gloves; (D135.2.w2, B20.13.w10, J29.8.w1, P14.3.w12, P24.335.w12)
      • Note that required dexterity, cost, size and required length of gloves may all affect glove choice. (P14.3.w12)
      • Different glove types may be appropriate in different situations, for example washing versus examining casualties. (P14.3.w12)
      • Gloves provide protection not only against oil but also against potentially irritant detergents. (P14.3.w12)
      • Light coverings such as cloths or gloves should be used to prevent direct contact of oil with bare hands. (D135.4.w4)
      • Heavy gloves are not recommended because they reduce the dexterity of the wearer. (D135.4.w4)
    • Goggles or safety glasses; (D135.2.w2, J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12
      • These protect against oil droplets reaching the eyes. (P14.3.w12)
    • A protective respirator if volatile components are present. (D135.2.w2) and cannot be maintained at safe levels by exhaust fans. (P14.3.w12) self-contained breathing apparatus if levels of toxic volatiles are high, particularly if working in a confined area. (B20.13.w10)
      • Note: Appropriate training and fit testing is required. (D135.2.w2)
    • Protective footwear. (J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
  • N.B. 
    • Appropriate protective clothing must be issued to personnel before they start working. (P24.335.w12)
    • Appropriate clothing to protect against physical injury from wildlife casualties should be worn under chemical protective clothing. (D135.2.w2)


All work areas should have sufficient ventilation to prevent buildup of toxic contaminants in the air. (D135.2.w2, D9, P14.3.w12)

  • If ventilation is insufficient to maintain organic vapours at or below safe levels then it will be necessary for personnel to wear respirators. (D135.2.w2)
  • Periodic monitoring of the facilities and personnel should be carried out to determine the concentration of airborne petroleum products such as benzene. (D160.2.w2)
    • In the USA this is required in accordance with 29 CFR 1910.120(h). (D160.2.w2)

Other measures:

  • Contaminated clothing and equipment should be stored in a designated area of the rehabilitation facility prior to being decontaminated or properly disposed of. (D135.2.w2)
  • Contact with contaminated materials, and breathing of petroleum vapours, should be minimised even when appropriate protective equipment is worn. (D135.2.w2)
  • Barrier cream may be applied to exposed skin areas. (P14.4.w8)
  • Personnel should be advised to wash off any oil from their skin using soap and water as soon as possible (e.g. when returning from search and collection efforts). (P14.4.w8, D9)
  • Clothes which become soaked in oil should be changed promptly. (D9)

Material Safety Data Sheets can provide general information about different types of oil. These should be made available. (P14.3.w12)

"The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the product must be consulted and appropriate precautions for the product followed. Personal protective equipment such as safety goggles, petroleum impermeable suits and gloves and protective footwear must be worn." (P24.335.w12)

  • If possible, independent analysis of the components present should be carried out by a technical laboratory. (P14.3.w12)

Other hazardous chemicals

There are a variety of other chemical products which are commonly used in wildlife rehabilitation, including bleach and other disinfectants, povidone iodine preparations and other antiseptics, solutions for cold sterilisation, and formalin used as a preservative (e.g. for tissue samples). (B335.14.w14, B375.2.w2)

  • Containers used for storing such chemicals should be labelled with the details of the product including name, concentration, compounds of concern, expiration date and safety warnings. (B335.14.w14)
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for such products should be kept in accessible locations both in animal care areas and administrative offices. (B335.14.w14)
  • When handling bleach and formalin, gloves and safety glasses should be worn and skin contact should be avoided. (B335.14.w14)
  • New personnel should consult their supervisor regarding safe and effective use of such products. (B335.14.w14)
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Zoonoses and Allergies

A variety of diseases can be caught from oiled wildlife, including viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic diseases. Additionally, individuals may develop allergic reactions.
  • NOTE: Any individual becoming ill while, or within a few weeks of, tending oil contaminated animals, should take care to inform their medical practitioner about the exposure to wild animals. (B363.2.w2)
  • Good personal hygiene, good animal handling techniques, appropriate protective equipment and current tetanus vaccinations are all important in minimising zoonotic risks. (J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12)
  • Appropriate protective clothing should be worn, including, if necessary, masks. (D160.5.w5)

The following list indicates the common, and some rarer, disease risks to humans handling wild animals.



  • This is a relatively common zoonosis (D9, B335.14.w14) and is the most common zoonosis in developed countries (B12.22.w13)
  • Salmonella typhimurium is the commonest problem. (B363.2.w2)
  • The commonest route of infection is faeco-oral. (B335.14.w14, B363.2.w2; D9, D183.w8), this may occur by contamination of food or water, or via fomites. (B12.22.w13, B23.22.w5)
  • Salmonellosis causes gastroenteritis with abdominal pain and severe diarrhoea in humans. (B12.22.w13, B23.22.w5, B335.14.w14)
  • Gallinaceous birds, waterfowl and seagulls very commonly carry salmonellae, but it is not uncommon in other species also. (B23.22.w5)
  • Salmonellosis is an important potential zoonotic hazard from marine mammals. (D183.w8)
    • Salmonellae have been isolated from apparently health marine mammals. (J4.173.w1)
  • Prevention: Strict hygiene is recommended to minimise the risk of salmonellosis. (B363.2.w2, D183.w8)
    • Eating, drinking and smoking in animal areas should not be permitted. (B363.2.w2)
    • Personnel should wash hands thoroughly before eating, drinking or smoking. (B363.2.w2)
  • See also: 

Avian Tuberculosis


  • Caused by Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, many birds may act as hosts, particularly columbiformes (pigeons and doves). (B23.22.w5)
  • Infection is by the faeco-oral route and is most likely with poor hygiene. (P24.334.w4)
  • In humans the main signs include acute mesenteric lymphadenitis, fever, gastroenteritis and erythema nodosum. (B12.22.w13, B23.22.w5)
  • See also:

Chlamydiosis (Ornithosis, Psittacosis)


  • This may be found in many wild birds but particularly in scavengers such as seagulls and crows. (B12.22.w13, B23.22.w5)
  • Transmission is by the faeco-oral route (usually from contaminated food) and in humans the main signs are of gastroenteritis. (B23.22.w5, P24.334.w4)
  • See also: 

Erysipelothrix infection

Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae may be found in the mouth of marine mammals and birds. Infections in humans, from contamination of bites or cuts, may be superficial but can cause serious localised bacterial infection and, if not treated properly, systemic infection. (B20.13.w10)


  • Leptospira interrogans serovar pomona has been transmitted from marine mammals (sea lions) to humans and caused zoonotic illness. (J4.173.w1)

Miscellaneous wound-associated:

  • Various bacterial infections may occur associated with exposure of open wounds to bacteria present on the animals or in the environment. (D183.w8, B335.14.w14)


Avian Influenza

  • This is a rare zoonosis. Transmitted by aerosol, it can cause respiratory signs in humans. (B23.22.w5)
    • Signs in humans vary from mild to severe and fatal pneumonia. (P24.334.w4)
  • Influenza A viruses are common in birds such as migratory waterfowl. (P24.327.w4)
  • During the recent (2003-2004) outbreaks of avian influenza in Asia, several case of direct transmission of H5N1 avian influenza virus to humans have occurred, and many such case have been fatal. (J6.33.w1) 
  • See also: 

Newcastle Disease


  • This disease must be considered if working with mammals in areas in which this disease occurs. 
  • In the UK classical rabies is not present however European lyssa virus 2 (EBLV-2) appears to be present, although to date it has been found only in Daubenton's bats (Myotis daubentonii - Daubenton's bat). (J3.153.w1)
    • One bat worker in the UK has died following exposure to EBLV-2 from a Myotis daubentonii - Daubenton's bat in the UK.
    • It is recommended that all bat workers, and those involved with bat rehabilitation, should be properly immunised (prophylactic vaccination) against rabies. (B284.9.w9)
    • Anyone who has not been vaccinated and is then bitten by a bat (Rhinolophidae spp. and Vespertilionidae spp.) should seek post-exposure vaccination. (B284.9.w9)
    • There is no evidence to date of rabies transmission from any bird to humans, although rabies has been induced in birds experimentally. (B12.22.w13)
  • See also: Rabies (with special reference to Waterfowl, Hedgehogs and the disease in the UK)

Seal pox  (B20.13.w10)

  • Humans may become infected through skin abrasions. 
  • Prevention: Risk of infection may be decreased by wearing protective clothing and gloves when handling seals 
  • (B156.12.w12, B222, J3.134.w3)
  • See also: Sealpox Virus Infection



  • This fungal disease is commonly seen on necropsy of oiled birds; it can cause large numbers of bird deaths. (B363.2.w2)
  • In humans this disease is mainly a threat to immunocompromised individuals. (B12.22.w13, B363.2.w2)
  • Catching this disease directly from birds is unlikely, except during bird necropsy, when spores from the carcass could be inhaled. (B12.22.w13, B23.22.w5, P24.327.w4, P24.334.w4)
  • In general, humans may become exposed from the same environmental sources as may cause infection in birds. (B12.22.w13, , B23.22.w5)
  • Prevention: 
    • Good air flow should be maintained in all areas where birds are housed. (B363.2.w2)
    • Protective face masks should be worn while birds are necropsied. (B23.22.w5, B363.2.w2)
  • See also: 


  • Various fungal infections of wild animals may also cause infection in humans. (B23.22.w5)
  • Transmission is by direct contact. (B23.22.w5)
  • Fungal infections of birds, such as Trychophyton gallinae and Microsporum gypseum infections, may result in round, swollen, erythematous plaques in humans. (B23.22.w5, P24.334.w4)
    • Secondary infection may occur. (P24.334.w4)
  • Transmission of ringworm is more likely to be from mammals than from birds. (P24.327.w4, P24.334.w4)
  • See also:


External parasites: lice and mites

  • Lice and mites from birds generally survive on humans for only a few days. (B363.2.w2)
  • Skin lesions and erythema may develop. (P24.334.w4)
  • Some people may develop an allergic dermatitis in response to these parasites. (P24.327.w4, P24.334.w4)
  • Prevention: Normal hygienic practices, such as wearing gloves, regular changes of clothes, and hand washing, should minimise the risks of picking up parasites. (B363.2.w2)


There is a risk of allergic disease during oiled wildlife response. (D183.w8)

Feather Allergies

  • Humans allergic to bird feather dander or avian faecal material may develop a clear nasal oculonasal discharge and sneezing; the diagnosis can be confirmed by skin testing. Symptoms can be treated using antihistamines. (B23.22.w5)

Bird Breeder's Lung (Allergic alveolitis, pigeon lung disease)

  • Caused by inhalation of feather dander and/or droppings, this disease occurs in acute, subacute and chronic forms in humans, causing dry cough, dyspnoea, reduced pulmonary function and weight loss. (B12.22.w13, B23.22.w5)
  • Malaise, chills, fever, shortness of breath, myalgia and coughing may occur in affected individuals. (B12.22.w13)
  • Coughing, dyspnoea and fever may be seen in the acute form following exposure to large quantities of allergen, while dry cough and progressive dyspnoea are seen with the subacute and chronic disease. (B23.22.w5)
    • The acute form may be seen four to eight hours after the individual has been exposed to a high level of allergen. (B12.22.w13, P24.334.w4)
    • The chronic form is seen following long-term low-dose exposure to the avian antigens. (B12.22.w13)
  • Recovery from the acute or subacute forms is usual if contact with the allergen is prevented, but irreversible pulmonary fibrosis may occur in chronic disease. (B23.22.w5)
  • Individuals with this condition should avoid exposure to dust from dried bird droppings. (P24.327.w4)

Latex and Other Allergies and Reactions

  • Individuals may develop reactions to materials which are used during oil spill response such as latex gloves, the powder in gloves, and disinfectants. (D223, W599.Nov05.w1, V.w5, V.w73)
  • Reactions may include: (D223, W599.Nov05.w1)
    • Irritant contact dermatitis. Not strictly an allergic reaction, this generally manifests as the development of dry, itchy, irritated areas of skin, usually on the hands. It may result from contact with latex, powder used in gloves, repeated hand washing and drying, incomplete hand drying, use of cleansers and sanitisers etc.
    • Allergic contact dermatitis (delayed hypersensitivity reaction/Type IV hypersensitivity reaction). This is seen as a rash, usually starting 24 to 48 hours after contact with the sensitising agent (such as chemicals used in the manufacture of latex gloves) but sometimes starting as soon as six hours after contact. It may spread and may progress to the development of oozing blisters on the skin.
    • Immediate hypersensitivity (Type I hypersensitivity reaction/latex allergy). Reactions may begin within minutes to hours after contact. In sensitised individuals, reactions may be triggered by very low level exposure to natural rubber latex proteins.
      • Mild reaction: skin reaction involving redness, development of hives and itching.
      • Serious reaction: respiratory signs e.g. runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, asthma type signs (breathing difficultly, wheezing, coughing spells).
      • Anaphylactic shock. A rare reaction, potentially life threatening, with a severe drop in blood pressure which may lead to breathing difficulties and/or loss of consciousness.

      (D223, W599.Nov05.w1)

  • Note: 
    • Individuals who are aware they have latex allergy should inform their employers and healthcare providers about their allergy. Additionally, it is recommended that they should wear Medic-Alert bracelet stating that this person has natural latex rubber allergy. (W599.Nov05.w1, W599.Nov05.w2)
    • In the UK, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 puts a duty on employees to take reasonable care for his or her own safety. (W599.Nov05.w2)
    • In the UK, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 puts a general duty on employers to keep employees and others health and safe at work and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 ask employers to undertake an assessment of any substances used at work and that are hazardous to health - this includes natural latex rubber. (W599.Nov05.w2)
      • This assessment should include not wearing gloves where they are not needed, using other glove materials such as nitrile, vinyl or synthetic gloves where appropriate, and limiting exposure to natural latex rubber gloves. HSE's policy is "Single use, disposable natural rubber latex gloves may be used where a risk assessment has identified them as necessary. When they are used they must be low-protein and powder-free." (W599.Nov05.w2)
    • In the USA, recommendations are provided by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC).

Prevention of Zoonotic Disease:

The risks of zoonotic disease can be substantially reduced by the application of basic sanitary precautions, including ensuring good ventilation and by normal good hygiene practices. (B363.2.w2, D9)

  • Separate clothing should be worn for handling and caring for wildlife. (B23.22.w5)
    • Clothes should be changed regularly. (B363.2.w2)
  • Avoid unnecessary close contact with birds, particularly cuddling and kissing; (P24.327.w4) and particularly avoid close contact between birds and anyone who may be immunodeficient or immunocompromised, including children and the elderly. (P24.327.w4)
  • Maintain strict personal hygiene. (P24.327.w4)
    • Gloves should be worn when handling animals. (D9)
    • Hands should be washed frequently. (B335.14.w14)
    • Eating, drinking and smoking should not be allowed in animal handling areas. (B335.14.w14, D135.2.w2)
    • Protective equipment should be removed and hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water (or approved cleansers) after working with casualties or cleaning pens/cages and before eating, drinking or smoking, or handling food for human consumption, including at rest breaks as well as at the end of a work shift/after finishing work. (B23.22.w5, B363.2.w2, D9, D135.2.w2)
      • Soap and warm water should be available at all locations where human food and drink are provided, as well as near toilets. (B363.2.w2)
  • Wear gloves when handling dead birds. (P24.327.w4)
    • Wear appropriate protective clothing when carrying out necropsies. (P24.327.w4)
    • If zoonotic disease is suspected then necropsy should be carried out under a hood, or appropriate personal protective equipment should be worn, such as a respirator and goggles in addition to gloves and other protective clothing. (B23.22.w5,)
  • When birds which appear to be diseased are being handled, appropriate respiratory protection (surgical mask) should be worn in addition to other personal protective equipment. (D135.2.w2)
  • Facilities should be kept clean. (D135.2.w2)
  • Ventilation should be maintained at an adequate level to prevent buildup of airborne contaminants. (D135.2.w2)
  • Minimise production of aerosols and dust and contact with either of these. (P24.327.w4)
  • Ensure that the use of appropriate disinfectants and antiseptics against zoonotic diseases is understood. (P24.327.w4)
    • Surfaces, including floors, counters etc. should be cleaned and disinfected frequently. (D135.2.w2)
    • Equipment used in food preparation should be cleaned and disinfected frequently. (D135.2.w2)
  • Ensure there is an adequate personnel health programme in place. (P24.327.w4)
    • All cuts, scratches and abrasions should be treated immediately with a disinfectant and reported to the appropriate supervisor. (B363.2.w2, D135.2.w2)
    • Individuals with open wounds should not have contact with either wildlife casualties or chemical contaminants. (D135.2.w2)
  • Individuals should also avoid getting exhausted, as exhaustion may lead to reduced immune system function and increase susceptibility to disease. (B363.2.w2)
  • Anyone developing illness or symptoms such as respiratory discomfort, dizziness, irritation of the skin or eyes, nausea or vomiting should stop work and report their illness to their supervisor immediately. (D135.2.w2)
  • Anyone becoming ill should inform their doctor that they have been working with birds and petroleum products. (P24.327.w4, D135.2.w2)
  • Note: All personnel handling wildlife should be up-to-date in tetanus immunisation due to the potential for puncture wounds. (D135.2.w2)
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Psychological Hazards

Stress and fatigue are general hazards of oiled wildlife response. (D183.w8)

Working with oiled wildlife in an oil spill situation is recognised to be highly stressful. 

  • Signs of depression reported by volunteers at oil spills include sadness, fatigue, lethargy and isolation. (P14.6.w2)
  • Volunteers may develop lasting effects including "feelings of anger, depression, difficulty in relating to others (perhaps to people who weren't involved), feelings of stress and anxiety."  (P14.6.w2)
  • There is always more work to be done and it is important to ensure that neither professional staff nor volunteers work excessively long hours resulting in exhaustion. (B363.2.w2, P14.6.w2)
    • An additional reason why individuals should avoid getting exhausted is that exhaustion may lead to reduced immune system function and therefore increase susceptibility to disease. (B363.2.w2)
  • There is an emotional stress associated with the devastation of a large, human-made disaster. (P14.6.w2)
  • There is emotional stress due to the inability of responders to save all the casualties. 
    • This stress is likely to be greater in situations where large proportions of the oiled casualties die or require euthanasia and may be relatively lower in responses in which a high proportion of the birds can be saved. 
    • When euthanasia is required, prompt decisions avoid personnel suffering disappointment after putting in substantial effort of care and perhaps developing emotional attachment to the casualty. (P24.327.w4)
  • It may not be possible to alleviate stress associated with the devastation of a large man-made disaster, however other stressors may be minimised. (P14.6.w2)

Stress reduction and prevention of exhaustion

  • New volunteers should be given an orientation in which they are given information about the work they will do, the possible toxicity risks are explained, they are told clearly who will be supervising them and are encouraged to ask questions. (P14.6.w2)
  • All personnel, particularly those in positions of authority, should be aware of signs of stress and should take appropriate action to relieve stress. (D183.w8)
  • All personnel should have regular rest and meal breaks, with adequate rest hours between shifts, and adequate days off, weekly. (B363.2.w2, P14.6.w2)
    • It may be necessary to facilitate days off for any volunteers who are feeling particularly overwhelmed or tired. (P14.6.w2)
  • To avoid exhaustion individuals should: (B335.14.w14)
    • Drink plenty of fluids (thereby preventing dehydration);
    • Eat regular meals;
    • Pace their activity, respecting personal limitations;
    • Rest if they feel tired;
    • Get eight hours sleep every day;


  • Volunteers should be kept informed about the progress of the response. (P14.6.w2)
  • Consider giving stressed volunteers a change of job to decrease their stress or allow them to feel more effective. (P14.6.w2)
  • When possible, volunteers should be included in positive events such as releases of rehabilitated casualties. (P14.6.w2)
  • Ensure that handling of casualties that have died or been euthanased is appropriate, with prompt processing. (P14.6.w2)
  • Volunteers may be assisted by the chance to express their feelings, e.g. by a debriefing, talking with one another about their experiences, or writing about their experiences. (P14.6.w2)
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Personal Protective Equipment

Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be available to protect against toxic, physical and zoonotic hazards. Personnel should be trained in the proper use and limitations of such equipment. (B335.14.w14, D9, D135.2.w2)
  • Protective clothing worn should be in accordance with risk assessments, work procedures, and Material Safety Data Sheets for the oil product (if known). (B363.2.w2)
    • Note: It is important to remember that protective clothing may give the wearer a false sense of security. (B363.2.w2)
  • The requirements for PPE will vary depending on the work being carried out:
    • For search and collection, as a minimum, oil impermeable coveralls, rubber boots, hard hats and nitrile gloves are required. (D183.w8)
    • For working with oiled animals in general, oil impermeable coveralls, nitrile gloves and safety glasses are required. (D183.w8)
    • For washing animals, personnel require waterproof clothing, nitrile gloves and safety glasses. (D183.w8)

Goggles/safety glasses/face shield: 

  • Goggles and safety glasses will protect against oil droplets getting into the eyes. (B335.14.w14, P14.3.w12) and will protect the eyes against detergent when animals are being washed. (B335.14.w14)
  • Goggles or safety glasses provide protection against eye injuries from aggressive casualties. (P14.3.w12)
    • Birds with long pointed bills are particularly likely to stab at the eyes. (D24, B118.18.w18, V.w5)
  • Anti-fog lenses may be useful. (P14.3.w12)
  • Individuals wearing contact lenses should wear safety glasses also. (B335.14.w14)
  • Safety glasses should also be worn when handling hazardous chemicals such as bleach and formalin. (B335.14.w14)
  • In the USA, eyewear should be labelled "z87"; this indicates that federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration specifications have been met. (P14.3.w12)


  • For protection from the bill and claws of birds, and claws and teeth of mammals.
    • Heavy leather gloves may be used when handling some species of mammals, to provide protection from scratches and bites. (B335.14.w14)
      • In general, heavy gloves are not recommended because they reduce the dexterity of the wearer. (D135.4.w4)
      • Light gloves or cloths such as towels provide some protection without excessively affecting dexterity. (B363.5.w5, D135.4.w4, D160.4.w4, V.w5)
  • For protection from oil.
    • Both neoprene and nitrile butyl rubber gloves provide protection against petroleum oils. (P14.3.w12)
    • Use of rubber gloves is particularly important if anyone has open sores or cuts, in order to prevent infection. (B335.14.w14)
  • For protection from irritating detergents. (P14.3.w12)
  • As well as protection, other factors to be considered in choosing gloves include the size and length required, cost, and dexterity needed while the gloves are worn. (P14.3.w12)
  • Different types of gloves may be appropriate for different tasks, such as initial examination compared with washing birds. (P14.3.w12)
  • Gloves should be discarded if they are damaged. (P14.3.w12)
  • Guidelines should be established for wear-out time of gloves; gloves generally cannot be decontaminated. (P14.3.w12)


  • To prevent windchill and hypothermia while collecting oiled wildlife casualties in cold or exposed conditions, good warm clothing, wind-proof and/or waterproof as required, should be worn.
  • Clothing should be industrial or water-resistant. (B363.2.w2)
    • Overalls (coveralls) prevent contamination of street clothes with animal feeds and wastes. These should be kept on site and laundered after use, not taken home. (B335.14.w14)
    • Water-resistant clothing such as rain jackets and trousers keep other clothing (e.g. overalls) dry while handling and washing oiled wildlife, and when outside during bad weather, and also prevent contamination with oil and faeces/urine/droppings. (B335.14.w14)
  • Coated Tyvek clothing is recommended for protection against petroleum oils. (P14.3.w12)
  • Saranex clothing provided excellent protection from petroleum oils. (P14.3.w12)
  • Guidelines for wear should be established. (P14.3.w12)
  • Different materials may be appropriate at different stages of the response process. (P14.3.w12)
  • It should be noted that the cost of these materials is significant. (P14.3.w12)

Proper footwear:

  • To minimise risks of slipping on wet surfaces including rocks (during search and collection) and wet floors (e.g. during washing).
  • Sturdy, water-resistant (e.g. rubber), non-slip shoes/boots should be worn. (B363.2.w2, B335.14.w14)


  • These should be used when the action of exhaust fans is not sufficient to maintain safe levels of organic vapours. (P14.3.w12)
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First Aid Provisions

It is important to ensure that adequate first-aid equipment, and personnel trained in first-aid, are available.
  • A human First Aid station should be set up at the rehabilitation centre, including provision of eye flushing stations. (B363.2.w2)
  • Appropriate first-aid kits should be available on-site for rescue and rehabilitation personnel, including in vehicles and boats. (B335.14.w14, B363.2.w2, D135.2.w2)
    • First aid kits should be displayed prominently. (P14.3.w12)
  • Every rescue or rehabilitation crew should have available to them someone trained in provision of emergency first aid including CPR. (D135.2.w2)
    • Trained personnel should be nominated on each shift to provide first aid if required. (B363.2.w2)
    • Personnel with medical or First Aid training should be well identified. (P14.3.w12)
    • It may be possible to arrange for a local First Aid organisation to provide assistance. (B363.2.w2)
  • All injuries and illness should be reported.
    • Minor cuts should be cleaned thoroughly and an antiseptic applied. (D135.5.w5)
    • Medical attention should be sought for more serious wounds. (D135.5.w5)
  • Eyewashes should be available in appropriate locations. (P14.3.w12)
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Health & Safety Legislation

Relevant local, national and international human health and safety legislation, which protects workers, must be followed. (B363.2.w2, D183.w8, P14.3.w12)

UK Legislation:

  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the key piece of legislation relating to health and safety in the UK. Duties and responsibilities established in the 1974 Act include (in summary): (D187)
    • A duty of employers to establish and maintain a safe system of work;
    • Requirement for employers to take all reasonably practical steps to protect the health, safety and welfare of their employees, and of others including the public;
    • Requirement for employers to prepare and maintain written safety policies;
    • A duty of employers to comply with all health and safety instructions and requirements, and not to put either their own, or anyone else's health, safety and welfare at risk.


  • The Act also gives among the duties of the employer "the provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees." (LUK27 - Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, W558.Mar05.w1)
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is supported by various Regulations and by other statutory provisions, such as the First Aid and Work Regulations 1981 and the Personal Protective Equipment (Amendment) Regulations 1994. (D187)
  • COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations must be followed. (D187)
  • Each local County Council has a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) officer covering their area; contact can be made in office hours via the HSE Information Centre (0541 545 500). (D134)

In the USA, Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as State Departments of Labor requirements should be followed. (P14.3.w12)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Dr Virginia Pierce (V.w73)

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