Allergies, nasty germs, slips, back strain, unlocked doors, and of course, the rare animal attack are all hazards for zoo employees. Here are some tips for safe animal handling:
- Always know where an animal is before entering an enclosure or back area.
- Use proper lock-out procedures, and design cage and gate locks so that the key cannot be removed unless the lock is closed.
- Have signs at entry doors warning keepers if any person or animal is out in an exhibit area.
- Always keep protective gear like gloves, goggles, jumpsuits, head gear, hearing protection, and boots within hand's reach.
- Hold regular emergency drills, including ones on how to use the anti-venom stored in the reptile house and what to do should an animal escape.
- Before moving an animal, notify other keepers in the building by radio and wait for their approval to proceed.
- Always lift from your legs (don't bend from your waist), and ask for assistance with heavy lifting.
- Wear protective clothing and equipment whenever appropriate to reduce risk of injury or infection, Know the limits of this protection, though.
- If an animal bites through a leather glove, don't assume the material has removed the germs or parasites. Consider the injury as potentially infected.
- Get vaccinated against rabies, tetanus, hepatitis B, and (if you work with wild deer) Lyme disease.
- Have periodic skin tests for tuberculosis and annual testing for parasitic diseases.
- Ask for proper training and emergency drills, if you don't already have them. Know how to care for common injuries until the emergency medical technicians arrive and where emergency medications (such as anti-venom) are kept, and be prepared to use them.
- Know the symptoms of animal-transmitted diseases you might encounter and how to avoid them. The book, 'Zoonotic Diseases,' published by the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc., is a good place to start.
- Follow all work safety procedures to the letter. If you feel these procedures are inadequate, suggest changes to management. If you're still not satisfied, talk to the chief veterinarian, a union representative, a certification inspector from the AZA, or contact your local OSHA office.
American Association of Zoo Keepers, Inc.
3601 SW 29th St., Suite 133
Topeka, Kansas 66614
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians
581705 White Oak Rd.
Yulee, FL 32097
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
8403 Colesville Rd, Suite 710
Silver Spring, MD 20910