Safety and Risks

 Job Safety and Personal Risks

Learning Objectives

  1. Become knowledgeable about personal protection equipment and know how and when to use it.
  2. Name at least three environmental risks.
  3. Describe how to set up a ladder safely.
  4. Explain how to safely climb and dismount a ladder.
  5. List 4 safety considerations for entering an attic crawl space.
  6. Describe 3 considerations for handling animals safely.
  7. Know what type of respirators are needed for inspection and decontamination work.


This module provides information on job safety and personal risks to help WCOs prevent injuries while doing their jobs in both familiar and unfamiliar or hazardous environments. Personal risks come from legal, ethical, and professional choices made in the course of performing your job. Financial risks from poor business decisions can cause serious harm to your company.  Breaking the law can get you in serious trouble. Follow state and local guidelines for fall-protection equipment, especially when working on roofs and ladders. Follow all vehicle safety laws and regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Use the methods and equipment described in this module to perform WDM safely. Wildlife diseases, equally as important to your health and safety, are covered in the next module.
The work of a WCO is physically demanding and exposes individuals to a variety of physical threats. WDM is not an office job. You have to carry tools, materials, and caged animals in all sorts of weather. Much of urban WDM requires a lot of carpentry skills and the use of hand tools and ladders. People, customers, may or may not support your methods and can be aggressive. Be aware of perils to your physical health as well as your mental health. WCOs who are physically and mentally fit and enjoy working outside will find WDM much more satisfying to perform. WCOs work outdoors with many potential hazards for which you should be prepared.

Relax, but don’t fall asleep at the wheel

“Had this squirrel job in an old house. I stepped off my ladder onto the metal roof, and pow! Those squirrels must have chewed through some wires that were touching the roof. The entire thing was electrified. I was lucky I didn’t fall off the roof.”
—Eric, NWCO in Connecticut
Throughout this module, we’ll discuss risks related to WCO work or the presence of wild animals inside homes or businesses. In most cases, you’ll be called in after an animal has caused damage. The risk is easy to understand because the problem is right there. What about those times when you see evidence of other problems?
What’s the worst that could happen? Who can get hurt? Can the situation be prevented? These are the kinds of questions that will help you put safety into perspective.
Legal risks are discussed in Module 12.

Terms to Know

Personal protective equipment (PPE)   Gear worn to protect people from disease agents, contaminants, and mechanical injury (boots, gloves, goggles, Tyvek suits, respirators).
Respirator   A device designed to protect the wearer from inhaling harmful dusts (some that might carry bacteria or fungi that could cause disease), fumes, vapors, or gases.
Risk   Exposure to danger and the potential for harm and loss.

Risks Associated with Wildlife

When some wild species move in, they can put customers and their property at risk. Some people don’t understand the problems until it is too late. Others overreact. By offering credible information in a professional manner, you can help your customers make sensible decisions about wildlife risks.
Wildlife can pose multiple threats to humans, domestic animals, crops, health and safety. Rodents, raccoons, and birds can cause fires by chewing wires or blocking vents or fans with their nests. Fan motors and lights can overheat and ignite highly flammable nest materials. If a nest blocks a chimney, dangerous fumes can be trapped inside. Chewed wires may cause critical electronic systems to fail. Wildlife can collide with airplanes, cars, and other vehicles.
You, your customers, their pets, and livestock might be bitten, scratched, or exposed to a wildlife disease, such as rabies or histoplasmosis. Most WCOs are more likely to encounter wildlife diseases than the average person, because they often handle wild animals, and spend a lot of time in disease hot spots such as attics and crawl spaces. The fur, dander, droppings, and parasites of wild animals also can trigger allergies in some people. Wild animals often are noisy at night, which might deprive people of sleep. Animals running around the ceilings of homes are dangerous.
Wildlife damage can also hit people in the pocketbook. To gain entrance to a building, some animals destroy parts of the exterior. Once inside, they might chew or soil woodwork and other materials. Items stored in attics, basements, and closets are vulnerable. Raccoons and mice often ruin insulation, causing heating and cooling bills to rise. Chewed wires will need to be repair or replaced, which can be expensive. Many human-wildlife conflicts are related to people’s safety, health, and protection of their property. There are risks and safety issues associated with performing wildlife damage management and there are risks from wildlife if preventive measures are not performed.
Risks in WDM are associated with:

  • Environmental risks
  • on-the-job work practices
  • handling animals
  • wildlife diseases
  • working with equipment
  • legal and ethical challenges

Environmental Risks

Environmental risks include working in hazardous weather conditions and exposure to unknown or unseen materials and substances. Landscapes vary with a variety of obstructions from trees to beaver dams. Embankments, water sources, stones, trash, even syringe needles, all create real and substantial risks for WCOs. Heat stroke or frozen appendages can be a real problem. Wildlife damage management is outdoor work. Proper clothing is important.

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
WCOs 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. When pursuing predators outside in warm weather, be sure to where appropriate clothing and carry water.
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 WCOs 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, roof 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.
Buildings can be dangerous. Nails, splinters, and broken wood or other building structures can be safety issues. A respirator may be necessary to protect your lungs from dust and other air-borne contaminants (Figure 1).

Figure 1. WCOs are exposed to environmental risks on the job. Wear a respirator and gloves when inspecting drop ceilings. Photo by Jan Hygnstrom.
Other risks include unseen or unknown structural problems, and electrocution from damaged or unseen electrical lines. Slips and falls, bending and lifting are common sources of workplace injuries. WCOs move and carry a lot of equipment over different terrains. Exercising awareness of surroundings is critical for safety.
Some of the wildlife removal methods can be dangerous and create safety issues. In part, regulations on wildlife control methods are geared towards making them safer for people, animals, and the environment. An improperly set trap may capture or injure the wrong animal, and could be hazardous to people if improperly set. If misused, toxicants can be a danger to people, pets, livestock, and other non-target wildlife. Pesticides can contaminate water, soil, and air.
Proper clothing and the use of personal protection equipment will help WCOs be safe in the majority of environmental working conditions. Gloves, boots, and eyewear should be routinely worn to protect from communicable wildlife diseases, roundworms, and other parasites. Heavy clothing will provide some protection from bites, scratches and other abrasions. Carry some of the basic safety equipment mentioned later in this module.
In urban and suburban neighborhoods, there may be risks and dangers from people in the community. Public attitudes towards WCOs vary, and there is the potential that people may vandalize work vehicles and attempt to steal traps and equipment. Protect yourself, your property, and your reputation is you have cause to be alarmed.

Improve safety with better on the job work practices and proper clothing


Shoes should cover your entire foot and be comfortable to wear. Soles should be soft to reduce damage to roofs and slip-resistant to reduce the risk of falling. Safety shoes with impact-resistant toes and insoles protect against injury.
Shirts should be comfortable and loose fitting to allow freedom of movement in tight areas. Wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket for protection from the sun, abrasion, and other environmental hazards.
Pants should be comfortable and allow for full leg movement. Choose pants made of material resistant to abrasion from kneeling and squeezing into small spaces. Generally, long pants are preferred.
Disposable coveralls should be used in areas that could be contaminated with diseases or when working with toxicants. If you use any pesticides such as toxicants or repellents, follow the label regarding use and laundering of clothing.
Hats, eye protection, and face guards are useful for protecting your face from the sun and cushioning bumps to the head. Hats are particularly necessary to protect the eyes of those who wear corrective lenses. Choose hats with adjustable clasps. Helmets provide added protection in case of a fall and reduce the risk of puncture injuries.

Safety Equipment

Figure 2. Flashlight for wide-area illumination. Headlamps provide hands-free lighting. Photo by Jan Hygnstrom.
Flashlights and good lighting are critical for safety. In fact, good lighting can prevent the need to enter hazardous situations. Three types of lights will be useful in most jobs.

  1. A general inspection light can be a simple, hand-held light used to illuminate closets and walking areas (Figure 2).
  2. Special inspection lights must provide at least 500,000 candles of illumination. They are powered by rechargeable batteries and will illuminate dark areas during daylight hours.
  3. Head lamps (Figure 2) are useful when your hands need to be free, such as when inspecting an attic or crawl space, joists, or under a deck.

Leather gloves with latex liners

Figure 3. Gloves are essential safety items. Photo by UNL.
Leather gloves have many uses. All WCOs should have a pair for general protection and a thicker pair for handling animals. Some WCOs prefer welder’s gauntlets. Bit gloves made with embedded metal rings or gloves made from Kevlar are especially useful in handling animals. Select gloves that that are comfortable and that you will wear frequently. Leather gloves should be large enough to fit over latex or nitrile gloves worn underneath (Figure 3) to provide additional protection with certain types of contamination such as bodily fluids. We recommend that you always wear gloves while performing any wildlife control activity.
Knee pads protect your knees when crawling in attics and crawl spaces.
A respirator may be one of the most frequently used pieces of safety equipment that you carry to the job. Before using a respirator, obtain a medical evaluation to ensure you are healthy enough to use it. Have a fit test to see that it fits properly. A good feel does not necessarily mean a mask has a good seal. Replace filters according to manufacturer recommendations. Select a half-face respirator with a particulate-filtering face piece (Figure 4) rated at N100 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This respirator will be sufficient for most general inspections of attics and basements.

Figure 4. Half-face mask suitable for routine attic inspections. Photo by Wildlife Control Supplies.
Use a full-face mask when performing cleanouts of attics or basements, or when the risk of airborne dust is high. OSHA requires employers to establish and maintain an effective respiratory protection program for employees. The respiratory protection program will cover the medical evaluation, fit testing, cleaning and maintenance of masks, training, and work area evaluation. Consult for the latest guidelines on how to implement this requirement.
Keep a first aid kit in your service vehicle. Cuts and scrapes occur daily. A kit should include Band-Aids®, gauze bandages, tape, antiseptic ointment, and triangular bandages, and treatments for bites, stings, and scratches.
Waterless hand sanitizer reduces the risk of infection when soap and water is not available. Choose a brand containing at least 60% alcohol. Smear a light coating over your hands to kill bacteria. Work it around your hands and between your fingers until they are dry. Cloth wipes have the added benefit of helping to scrub away organic material where germs can hide.
Helmets that fit properly can help to protect your head in crawl spaces and attics. Helmets seldom are worn by WCOs in residential settings. They are cumbersome and sometimes a detriment when they obstruct your view. Helmets diminish headlamp light unless you have a hardhat with a headlamp built in. Occasionally, a commercial contract will require you to wear a hardhat while on the jobsite.
A bump cap provides an alternative to a helmet. They offer no protection from falling objects, nor are they rated for electrical protection. They offer sufficient protection, however, for crawl spaces and attics.
Eye protection is critical when working with materials that can spray or fall into your eyes. Wear a full-face mask if biologically hazardous dust, aerosolized feces, or other potential contaminants are present.
A medical history will alert your doctor to consider some of the wildlife-related diseases that normally are not considered for other patients. Tell your doctor that you are in contact with wildlife in your occupation.
Safety equipment is not to be confused with on the job safety practices such as preventing injuries from daily routines and the use of power equipment. Performing exclusion work, cutting boards, metal and wire, can be dangerous. Become familiar with the safety features on saws, drills, cutting plyers and other equipment. General building construction has many risks and causes many accidents.

Risks Related to Driving

Getting to the job has its own dangers. Accidents, vehicle collisions, and basic motor vehicle infractions can cause lots of problems for you and your company. Safe driving is essential for managing your business. Prevent vehicle accidents by keeping your vehicles maintained. Insure that lights, tires, and other equipment are working properly. Do not leave your truck full of garbage, refuse, caged animals or dead carcasses. All WCOs should take additional safe driving courses to reduce their insurance liability.
If you happen to perform agricultural wildlife control, you may need additional training in using all-terrain vehicles and/or other vehicles made for accessing remote locations. Vehicles are dangerous and cause numerous personal injuries. If you run a large company, a vehicle safety program is required.

Risks from Handling Wildlife

Handling animals requires:

  • leather gloves, and
  • other items such as cat tongs or catch poles.

Wildlife are unpredictable and many WCOs have underestimated the strength, quickness, and agility of animals. While an attack from an animal is unlikely, it can occur when animals are startled, such as when your head emerges into an attic or crawl space or when a parent believes their young may be in danger. Animals can cause injury through bites and scratches.

Prevent Injury

Keep your distance from animals. You cannot be bitten or scratched if the animal cannot touch you. In addition, distance helps reduce the likelihood of ectoparasites (fleas, ticks, etc.) moving from the animal to you. If you cannot keep your distance, use tools such as catch poles, snake tongs, or cat graspers. When there appears to be a choice between being bitten and the animal escaping, let the animal get away.
When trapping, use professional-grade traps with 1 x ½-inch mesh and oversized handle guards to prevent getting clawed. Wear protective clothing such as heavy gauntlet gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt when handling traps with animals. Cover the trap with a cloth to help calm a captured animal and to protect yourself as you carry it. Hold the trap away from your body.
If you must dispatch an animal, avoid contact with blood splatter and other bodily fluids. Use gloves when preparing the carcass for disposal. Be aware that parasites on the dead animal will try and host on the WCO that carries or moves the carcass.

Unseen Danger – Caged Animals on Roofs

One of the most dangerous activities performed by a WCOs is to carry a caged animal while climbing down a ladder. Carrying a cage on a ladder violates the “3 points of contact” rule, as you will be using the ladder with only one hand. The weight shift that occurs when an animal moves from one end of the trap to the other is another danger. The weight shift can cause you to lose your balance, drop the animal, and fall. This is a particular risk when working with raccoons, which have a tendency to move from one end of the trap to the other when they see the ground below. Instead of carrying the trap, use a towline to lower the caged animal.

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.

Risks related to using equipment

The use of power tools requires:

  • eye protection, ear protection, and
  • dust mask or half-mask respirator.

The tools that are required for any particular job can pose safety risks to the user. For example, setting up a 32-foot ladder presents the risk of back injury as you place the ladder, and the risk of falling from the ladder when using it. The proper use of commercial-quality equipment prevents many injuries. Body gripping traps are dangerous. A high-quality commercial trap works better and is safer than an inexpensive one. Power equipment can cause accidents and low-quality tools are often the most dangerous. Always choose quality equipment rated for the level of activity that is needed. Remember, professionals need professional equipment. Keep all equipment in optimal working condition, read and follow all manufacturer instructions, and obtain training whenever possible.

Ladders –
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,  WCO in Indiana
The use of ladders requires:

  • choice of the right ladder,
  • ensuring it is firmly planted,
  • attaching tie offs or ladder straps,
  • consideration if you need help
  • awareness of power lines.

Like contractors, WCOs spend a lot of time on ladders and roofs, but unlike roofers, WCOs 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 WCOs 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,
Ladders may be one of the most dangerous tools used by WCOs. The term “ladder” will refer to all devices used to reach elevated or descended distances. Choose ladders rated 1 or 1A for industrial use. You should have a 6- to 8-foot stepladder for entering attic crawl spaces, a 14- to 18-foot ladder for one-story structures, and a 28- to 32-foot ladder for two-story structures.

Ladder Accessories

Ladder tie offs attach ladders to gutter spikes to prevent sliding. Wind gusts can push ladders off structures, leaving you stranded on the roof. A falling ladder may hit someone on the ground.
Fall-protection equipment may be needed for some jobs. Situations that involve steep roofs and elevated platforms require special equipment such as a rope, lanyard, and harness. Use a rope rated for climbing. These tools are outside the scope of this module, but you should be aware they exist. Seek proper training in the use and selection of fall-protection equipment and use it when appropriate.
Ladder straps anchor the base of a ladder to poles or other secure objects to prevent ladder kick outs (when the base of the ladder dislodges from the ground).
Stabilizers can reduce lateral motion by widening the contact of a ladder with a structure (Figure 5). Some stabilizers are constructed to allow you to place each leg on a separate wall at the corner of a house.

Figure 5. A stabilizer helps to keep a ladder away from a structure and increases stability. The electrical power line should be shut off before placing a ladder at a location such as this. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Ladder Storage

Protect ladders from the elements. Ladders should be stored by themselves. Nothing should be placed on top of ladders. Follow manufacturer guidelines on the storage of ladders to prevent warping and other damage.

Basic Ladder Safety

Choose the correct ladder for the situation. Ensure each ladder is rated for the total amount of weight it will bear when in use. Several options are available, including step ladders, extension ladders, platform ladders, and mechanical lifts. If you will be on a roof, you may need to use fall-protection equipment.
Check all ladders for damage and defects before each use. Ladders should not be bent. They should not have splinters, damaged welds, or loose or damaged parts. The rubber fittings on the feet of a ladder should be in good condition. If they are not, replace them. Check stabilizers and levelers. Replace unsafe parts with parts approved by the ladder manufacturer. If you doubt the integrity of a ladder, mark it as unsafe and properly dispose of it.
Before moving a ladder into place, check the area for potential hazards such as holes, ledges, power lines, tree limbs, or other items that could interfere with safe placement of the ladder. Get help if you need assistance in placing the ladder safely. As a rule, ladders taller than 16 feet (extending to 32 feet) require two workers. Never drag or drop a ladder. Ensure that the ladder is level and properly stabilized so it will not wobble.
Never stand on the top 3 rungs of a ladder. All steps and rungs should be clean and free of debris or other items that could cause slips. Never lean or reach to the side; your shirt pockets should not extend beyond the sides of the ladder.
Never move a ladder while you or anyone else is standing on it. Always move or reposition a ladder while you are standing on the ground. Check for anything that could interfere with climbing and descending a ladder. Always have your hands free when climbing a ladder. Raise and lower items with a rope and bag or bucket while on a ladder.

Moving Ladders

During transport, vibration and jostling can damage ladders. Install heavy-duty ladder racks on service vehicles. Quality ladder racks protect the ladder from damage and reduce the likelihood of losing a ladder. Always check that ladders are secured properly to the vehicle before leaving the service site.

Basic Step Ladder Safety

Select a step ladder appropriate in height and use for your situation. Reduce fatigue by using a platform step ladder when you will remain in one location for an extended period of time. Fully extend and press the locks into place before climbing. Only stand on rungs designed to be used as steps. Never stand on the top 2 steps or use a step ladder when it is closed. Always stand in the middle of each step.

Basic Extension Ladder Safety

Follow manufacturer instructions for placing ladders at a safe angle. For a roof edge that is 20 feet high (rise), the base of the ladder should be 5 feet out from the eave (run) to achieve a 4:1 rise-to-run ratio (Figure 6). The top of the ladder should extend 3 feet above the roof. To test for proper alignment of the ladder, place your feet at the base of the ladder and extend your arms straight forward and parallel to the ground. If the angle is appropriate, the palms of your hands should reach a rung on the ladder.

Figure 6. Diagram of the proper positioning of a ladder
(20:5 = 4:1 ratio of rise to run). Image from Best Practices
Ensure that the locks on a ladder are engaged before climbing. Properly secure the ladder to a strong structure, especially if you are going to step off the ladder onto a roof or if you will be working on the ladder for any length of time. Keep the bottom of the ladder from slipping by using braces, ladder straps, or an anchor board. Secure the top of the ladder to the structure with tie offs to prevent horizontal sliding. Free training on basic ladder safety is available online at

Anchoring Tips –
Prevent Kick Out with Extension Ladders

  1. Move a vehicle bumper close to the base of a ladder.
  2. On a deck or wooden surface, get permission to anchor a 2 x 4 board behind the ladder with screws.
  3. On soil, use long stakes to anchor the base of the ladder to the ground. First call Dig Safe® or a similar company to locate underground utilities.
  4. 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 is on uneven ground. If you cannot secure the base, choose another place for the ladder.
  5. Inspect equipment frequently and do not use damaged ladders. Replace lanyards and harness after a fall.
  6. Pad ropes so they do not chafe against roof edges.
  7. Be aware of electrical services to avoid electrocution. Use fiberglass ladders when working near power lines. Ask an electrical company to shield wires.

 Climbing and Dismounting – Extension Ladders
The likelihood of falling from a ladder is not related directly to your size or weight. Climb slowly and surely. Always face the ladder and do not lean off the side. Keep 3 parts of your body in contact with the ladder at all times, including both hands and a foot or both feet and a hand. Knees do not count as a point of contact.
Do not carry heavy or bulky items as you climb. Pull items up with a towline, attach them to your tool belt, or have them handed to you. Wear shoes with strong soles and keep them clean for maximum traction. 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. Rent a bucket lift (Figure 7). The rental agency will provide instructions.

Figure 7. Bucket lifts can be safer and more efficient when working in high areas. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.
Dismount by stepping sideways onto the roof. The ladder should extend 3 feet above the edge of the roof to eliminate the option of stepping over the ladder. Temperature fluctuations in the spring and fall can cause slippery conditions due to condensation. To check traps or other devices without climbing onto a roof, fasten a car side-view mirror onto a long pole. Raise the pole to see the trap or device from the ground.
Carry a cell phone and have two people present on jobs with extensive ladder work. For more details on the proper use of ladders, see the OSHA website ( Other sources of information include the building industry and ladder manufacturers. Roofers have extensive, relevant experience working with ladders.

Risks Associated with Wildlife diseases

“Zoonotic diseases” or “zoonoses” are illnesses that people can catch from animals or from contact with their habitats. There are hundreds of zoonotic diseases but only a few are common in most WCO work. (Read the module on Wildlife Diseases.)
As previously mentioned, risks associated with ladders are far more significant for WCOs, 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 threatened, endangered or a prized game species.
As a professional, behave in ways that minimize the risk of exposing others to disease and help prevent the spread of the disease to other areas, or other species. Professional behavior influences your capture methods, animal handling and disposal procedures, choice of gear, customer education, and clean-up strategies for the site and your equipment.
Rabies is a prime example of the important role WCOs 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, WCOs, veterinarians, and many others.

Basic Attic and Crawl Space Safety

If you plan to work in attics and crawl spaces, take an OSHA-certified training course for working in confined spaces. In general, keep a supply of drinking water handy. Beware of heat stress, especially in hot weather when in an attic or crawl space. Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Always carry 2 sources of light and have 2 people present. Wear clean gloves so you do not leave smudge marks on paint.
Entering attics and crawl spaces requires:

  • leather gloves,
  • half-mask respirator,
  • head-lamp, a second light, and
  • eye protection.

Ask your client to clear the area to allow access to attic and crawl spaces. Perform an exterior inspection to reduce the need to enter an attic or crawl space.
If entry is required, you may be fortunate to have a staircase that leads to the attic. In many cases, you probably will need a ladder so try to avoid falling. To protect yourself from falls, use a ladder brace, ropes or bungee cords, and helmet or head protection.
Put on a HEPA filter mask or the equivalent before opening the attic hatch. Wear it when in the attic and while conducting clean-outs.
Whenever possible, distribute your weight on two joists while holding onto rafters (Figure 8).
If possible, create a path by laying 2 x 6- or 2 x 8-inch boards across the joists and anchoring them with screws. The boards provide a stable platform and will distribute your weight more evenly. Joists can flex and break. If you sense the joists are bowing too much or seem too weak to hold your weight, DO NOT CONTINUE. Leave the attic carefully.
Carefully shine a light around the entire attic or crawl space and look for signs of animals. Attics and crawl spaces can have other hazards such as protruding nails, old or damaged wiring, previous use of toxicants, and fiberglass.

Figure 8. Hold rafters while probing for floorboards. Feel for joists with your feet or hands; pull back insulation to locate them. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Risks Associated with Firearms

Shooting is appropriate in certain situations, especially for field dispatching animals, however shooting requires training and skill. Safety concerns and legal restrictions must be considered before shooting. For proper training in the use of firearms, attend a hunter education course or a training course sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Critical Rules of Gun Safety

  1. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded (even when you are sure it is empty).
    1. Check the action, and keep it open,
    2. never load your firearm until you are ready to hunt or shoot,
    3. never use scope in place of binoculars.
  2. ALWAYS keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.  What is a safe direction?  Never point at anything you do not intend to shoot.  Never pull your gun towards you by the muzzle.
  3. Be certain of your target and what lies in front of your target and what lies beyond your target. Know where your bullet will go if it misses or passes through your target. Don’t shoot targets on the skyline, brush shots, etc.  IF YOU ARE NOT SURE, DON’T SHOOT!
  4. Keep your finger outside of the trigger guard until you are on target and ready to shoot.


More to Consider:

  1. Check the OSHA website ( for more information about respirators and fall protection.
  2. Find out which types of wasps most frequently sting people. Are there any harmless insects that could be mistaken for them?
  3. Take training in first-aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
  4. Study the wildlife diseases module in this manual.
  5. Become familiar with the dangers of using chemicals, repellents, and toxicants.

Study Questions for Physical Safety

Questions for Reflection

  1. Draw a diagram or use numbers to show the recommended angle and height needed to position a ladder safely against a building.
  2. List 3 tips for the safe use of ladders.
  3. List 4 pieces of safety equipment and explain their use.
  4. Describe how you would prepare yourself to enter an attic.
  5. Why are professional cage traps safer?