Job Risks


Learning Objectives

  1. Draw a diagram showing the recommended way to position a ladder against a building.
  2. List three tips for the safe use of ladders.
  3. Define “zoonotic disease” and “zoonoses.”
  4. Describe the type of clothing that will help you avoid being stung by insects.
  5. Name six warning signs of heat stroke and one way to prevent it.
  6. List three ways to quickly cool down someone who’s suffering from heat stress.
  7. Identify the best way to protect yourself from a tetanus infection.

Even some of the equipment used to remove wildlife can be dangerous, so it’s sensible to stay alert to the latest information about the safe and effective use of traps, firearms, and ladders.

This section briefly discusses some of the safety issues you’ll confront on the job and describes tips for avoid­ing accidents. For more detailed information, check the U.S. OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Authority) website at, or some of the other resources listed in the appendix.

The most dangerous thing you handle isn’t furry

“I was working on this bird job in an equipment shed. We were nearly done; I just needed to treat one last area. I was using a 20-foot straight ladder, but the roof was about 15 feet in that spot. Instead of getting a shorter ladder, I set the long one against the rafter and started up. Just as I reached the rafter, the ladder slipped, and down I went. End result: cracked rotator cup in my elbow, dislocated toe, multiple fractures in my feet, large gash across my knee.”

—Wayne Langman, NWCO in Indiana

Like contractors, NWCOs spend a lot of time on ladders and roofs, but unlike roofers, NWCOs also contend with another hazard: the unpredictable actions of wild animals. Carrying a trap containing a scared or aggressive animal down a ladder is a bit more exciting than toting a bucket of nails. So NWCOs have a few more items to add to their list of safety issues.

Safety precautions can be a pain; they slow you down and inhibit your mobility. It’s hard to justify taking the time during the busy season, especially if you just need to quickly check a trap and you have so many other jobs waiting. Very few people die from diseases they caught from wildlife, but accidents associated with ladders are fairly frequent and often serious. In 1993, for example, falls accounted for 11% of the deaths from all job-related injuries in upstate New York (8% in New York City). When you include accidents at home, falls were the fourth leading cause of death from in­jury, and the number one cause of hospitalizations. [These statistics, from the New York State Department of Health, refer to all occupations, not just nuisance wildlife control].

Accidents usually happen when someone is hurried or distracted and not concentrating on safety. Sometimes the condition of the ladder is at fault. Sometimes it’s your shoes, or wet or icy conditions. Wind might overcome the stability of the ladder and tip you over.

If you run a small business, it’s up to you to decide how much risk you’re comfortable with; however, if you have ten or more workers, you’re covered by OSHA regulations. Even if your business is exempt, you may still want to check out their website,

Here’s a basic summary of the OSHA recommendations for the safe use of ladders.

Setting up the job:

  • First, make sure that the ladder is the right design and strength for the job.
  • If using fall protection equipment, such as life lines, lanyards, and harnesses, seek proper training in the use and selection of those materials.
  • Make sure you’re using a climbing rope that is rated for people.
This NWCO wears a safety harness attached to a retractable lanyard system that would arrest a fall. This protection still provides enough mobility to install the bird netting on the bridge.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructors for placing the ladder at a safe angle. There should be no more than a 4:1 ratio between the height to the roof’s edge and the distance from the eave.
  • In this illustration, the roof edge is 20 feet up, which means that the base of the ladder needs to be 5 feet out from the eave to achieve the 4:1 ratio (not drawn to scale).
  • The top of the ladder should extend 3 feet above the roof.
  • Secure ladders properly to a strong structure, especially if you are going to step off the ladder onto the roof, or when you’ll be working on the ladder for any length of time. Keep the bottom of the ladder from slipping using braces or an anchor board. Tie the “fly” section (the moveable part) and base together at their overlap. Secure the top of the ladder using ladder rungs or “ropes” (the types of ropes that are rated for this use are more properly called “life lines” and “lanyards”).
  • The ladder must be as firm as possible. The base must be flat, level, and secure. Use equipment to stabilize the base if the ladder’s on uneven ground. If you can’t secure the base, choose another spot for your ladder.
  • Inspect equipment frequently and don’t use damaged ladders. Replace lanyards and harness after a fall.
  • Pad ropes so they don’t chafe against the roof’s edge.
  • If using an aluminum ladder, watch out for electrical services to avoid electrocution.

Climbing and dismounting:

  • The likelihood of falling is not directly related to your weight or size.
  • Climb slowly and surely and always face the ladder. Avoid the temptation to lean off the side of the ladder because that may make you lose your balance.
  • Keep three parts of your body in contact with the ladder (either both hands and a foot, or both feet and one hand).
  • Don’t carry heavy or bulky items as you climb. Pull them up on a towline, attach them to your tool belt, or have them handed up to you.
  • Wear shoes with strong soles, and keep them clean for maximum traction.
  • Dismount by stepping sideways onto the roof, don’t step over the ladder.

Tips from NWCOs and safety experts:

If you don’t feel safe, don’t do it. You can always rent a bucket lift. The rental costs can even make sense financially, because you could lose a lot more money if you had an accident that keeps you away from work for a long time.

  • Watch out during the spring and fall, when temperatures fluctuate a lot. That can lead to condensation on the roof and very slippery conditions.
  • Carry a cell phone with you, especially if you’re working solo. That way, if you have an accident and need help, you can call someone.
  • To check whether or not there’s an animal in a trap without climbing onto the roof, try this simple device. Fasten a car’s side-view mirror onto a long pole. Raise the pole to see the trap from the ground.
  • For more details, see the OSHA website at Another great source of advice is the building industry. Roofers have a lot of relevant experience, and like you, they’re up there trying to get their work done.

Wildlife diseases

“Zoonotic diseases” or “zoonoses” are illnesses that people can catch from animals or from contact with their habitats. There are about 200 zoonotic diseases. (Details for the zoonoses most relevant in the Northeast will be discussed later.)

As previously mentioned, risks associated with ladders are far more significant for NWCOs, but some wildlife diseases can also be fatal to people. Even if you’re comfortable with your personal risk, you owe it to your customers to be cautious. You have no way of knowing how healthy they are; some may have compromised immune systems because they suffer from cancer, diabetes, AIDS, or other illnesses. A disease you could shrug off might be no laughing matter for them.

Diseases can also spread to other wildlife species and devastate their populations, a major worry if the affected species is endangered or a prized game species.

As a professional, behave in ways that minimize the risk of exposing others to disease and also help prevent the spread of the disease to other areas, or other species. This concern influences your animal handling and disposal procedures, your choice of gear, customer education, and clean-up strategies for the site and your equipment.

Rabies is a prime example of the important role NWCOs play in protecting public health. Rabies is so widespread in wildlife in New York and the Northeast that the state health department recommends treat­ing any skunk, raccoon, or bat you approach as “rabid until proven innocent.” This disease is always fatal once symptoms appear. (Four people who had been given some vaccination—but not in the recommended way—did develop the disease and still survived, although they suffered severely). Yet there are only about one or two human deaths caused by rabies each year in the U.S., according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). One reason for this remarkably low number is the vigilance of health department staff, NWCOs, veterinarians, and many others.

Bites and stings

When practical, avoid situations in which you might get bitten or stung, especially if you’re allergic to wasp or bee stings. There’s gear that can help protect you from bites, such as animal handling gloves, catchpoles, and traps with protective plates around the carrying handle (gear will be discussed in more detail later). In some cases, a strategic retreat may be in order. If holding onto the animal means you’re probably going to be bitten, maybe you just let it go and then try again. If you are bitten by a mammal or bird, call the Department of Health for advice.

To reduce your chance of being stung by an insect, wear light-colored but not colorful clothing. When you approach the nest, be careful not to vibrate it or shine a light directly on it. “Bee suits” may be warranted if you’re dealing with a large nest.

What about sprays? The DEC makes reasonable allowances for workers in dangerous situations, such as NWCOs who are up on ladders. You can use an over-the-counter spray to protect yourself from stinging insects. The DEC prefers that those who may encounter stinging insects on a regular basis seek certification as a pesticide applicator.

Heat-related illnesses

“I was removing a large starling nest from an attic. The nest was 6–8 feet tall and almost as big around. Because of the dust, I was wearing a respirator. I wasn’t moving around much, just bagging up the nest. After an hour, I noticed I was getting light­headed. As soon as I moved, the dizziness really hit me. It was all I could do to get to the ladder and get down in one piece. If I hadn’t recognized the symptoms I could have collapsed up there and maybe died from the heat.”

— Wayne Langman, NWCO in Indiana

NWCOs have to go where the animals are. Often, that takes you into an enclosed space that’s hot and stuffy. To make things worse, there’s a good chance you’ll be wearing protective gear that will make you even hotter. This can lead to a variety of heat-related conditions, such as heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the most serious condition—it’s a life-threatening emergency. Heat stroke can kill quickly or cause permanent brain damage. Your body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes.

Milder forms of heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion, can develop into heat stroke if untreated. Even the milder conditions can be serious for NWCOs because they might lead to accidents, especially falls. Dizziness, fogged safety glasses, slippery, sweaty palms, compromised balance, and outright fainting could make you fall off a ladder or beam.

Under hot conditions, some workers can lose as much as 2–3 gallons of water a day through sweat. You need to drink about as much water as you lose to sweat to avoid dehydration.

Don’t count on thirstiness to signal when you need to drink because it’s not a reliable indicator. Just plan on drinking 5–7 ounces of water every fifteen minutes, or one quart every hour.

Warning signs of heat stroke:

  • hot skin, usually dry, red, or spotted
  • extremely high body temperature, 105°F or higher
  • no sweating
  • confusion or delirium
  • unconsciousness
  • convulsions
  • vomiting

Warning signs of heat exhaustion:

  • moist, clammy skin
  • pale or flushed complexion
  • body temperature is normal or slightly high
  • heavy sweating
  • giddiness, dizziness, or fainting
  • headache, perhaps really throbbing
  • queasiness
  • extreme weakness or tiredness
  • in more serious cases, person may also vomit or become unconscious

What to do:

Call 911 and seek immediate medical attention if: the symptoms are severe; you have heart problems or high blood pressure; the symptoms worsen; or the symptoms last more than an hour.

Cool down as fast as you can. Douse yourself with cool water from a shower or garden hose. Go to an air-conditioned room. Drink cool, nonalcoholic drinks; ideally, about 5–7 oz. of water every fifteen minutes. Do whatever it takes and continue until your body temperature drops to 101–102°F. Call the hospital emergency room or rescue squad for further instructions.

If the person is vomiting, turn him on his side to keep his airway open. If he’s experiencing convulsions, make sure he doesn’t hurt himself but don’t place any objects in his mouth, and do not give him fluids.

Best ways to prevent heat-related problems:

  • Give yourself a few days (ideally, 4–7 days) to get used to the heat by gradually increasing the amount of time you spend in hot areas. If you’re out of the heat for more than a week, you need to do this again.
  • Take a break every hour while you’re working in a hot spot (80°F or hotter) especially if the humidity is high. Move to a cool spot.
  • During your cool break, drink at least one quart of water.
  • Eat light, cold meals, preferably those lower in fat, because fat is harder to digest in hot weather.
  • No alcoholic drinks.
  • Do the job early in the morning whenever possible, especially if it requires a lot of time in an attic or crawlspace.
  • Work with another person if you can, so you can check each other for signs of heat stress.

For more information, see:

“Working in hot environments,” CDC report, at:

OSHA-NIOSH INFOSHEET: Protecting Workers from Heat Illness, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2011-174 at:

Tetanus (a.k.a. “lockjaw”)

Tetanus is an infection caused when the toxin of the bacterium, Clostridium tetani, is released into a wound, usually through a deep puncture. It’s often fatal. This disease is also known as “lockjaw” because the muscles of the jaw and neck contract spasmodically.

NWCOs are most likely to suffer puncture wounds two ways: either through an animal’s bite or by accidentally impaling themselves on a nail, which is a common hazard in attics and barns. Be especially alert for nails in horse barns because many horses are infected with the tetanus bacteria.

The right gloves provide excellent protection from bites but they’re not foolproof. Some of the larger carnivores can bite through even heavy-duty gloves. To protect yourself from a tetanus infection, get a tetanus immunization every ten years. If you receive a puncture wound and it’s been more than five years since your last tetanus shot, your doctor may recommend another shot.

Electrocution and other safety risks

Many buildings contain old wiring systems, such as “post and tube.” If there was any insulation on the wires, it may have deteriorated. You could be working around bare wires that are “live.” Touch one and you could be electrocuted. (This also happens to rodents and birds.) Anything that is metal, such as a roof, can become electrified. Be especially alert for dangers when in an old or poorly maintained building. Will the attic floor bear your weight? Are the joists solid? Slate roofs can be very slippery, especially when wet. To learn how to recognize and avoid hazards associated with particular building styles, talk to those in the building trades.

Higher, deeper, further…·        Check the OSHA website for more information about fall protection. Write the best tips on an index card, laminate it, and attach it to the visor of your truck.·        Contact the Red Cross for more ideas about how to prevent or treat heat-related illnesses.·        Find out which types of wasps most frequently sting people. Are there any harmless insects that could be mistaken for them?·         Seek training in first-aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).


Before you answer the review questions, you may wish to think about the learning objectives for this section:

  • 4 Draw a diagram showing the recommended way to position a ladder against a building.
  • 5 List three tips for the safe use of ladders.
  • 6 Define “zoonotic disease” and “zoonoses.”
  • 7 Describe the type of clothing that will help you avoid being stung by insects.
  • 8 Name six warning signs of heat stroke and one way to prevent it.
  • 9 List three ways to quickly cool down someone who’s suffering from heat stress.
  • 10 Identify the best way to protect yourself from a tetanus infection.

Review questions

  1. Diseases that people can catch from animals or from contact with their habitats are called
    1. “epinotic diseases”
    2. “zooposies”
    3. “zoonotic diseases”
    4. “mammalian diseases”
  1. If a ladder is placed 20 ft. high, the base of the ladder should be
    1. 20 feet from the side of the building
    2. 10 feet from the side of the building
    3. 5 feet from the side of the building
    4. firmly attached to the building
  1. Wear colorful clothing to avoid being stung by insects. (Circle correct answer)

True False

  1. The odds of falling are related to
    1. your weight and height
    2. the condition of the ladder
    3. weather conditions
    4. type of shoes worn
    5. more than one answer is correct
  1. What’s the best way to prevent suffering from heat stroke or heat exhaustion if you have to work in a hot attic?
    1. take a break every hour and drink one quart of water
    2. finish up the job quickly so you can go get a drink
    3. wear protective gear
    4. schedule jobs for late in the afternoon



2—c (apply the 4:1 ratio. 20 ÷ 4 = 5)


4—e (The condition of the ladder and weather

conditions affect your chances of falling. Your height and weight don’t. Shoes play a minor role. Some types might provide better traction on some kinds of roofs, but it would be impractical to change your shoes throughout the day.)