Safety Services


Allergens (Animal)

There are certain requirements UCL staff are obliged to follow before working with animals.

UCL mandatory requirements when working with animal allergens

Before any work with animals is carried out, individuals must:

  1. Undertake baseline health surveillance with UCL Workplace Health.
  2. Complete the online e-learning course on health and safety in animal facilities.
  3. Be fit-tested for appropriate respiratory protective equipment (if required).
  4. Make sure there is a risk assessment that covers your work on riskNET.
  5. Complete the relevant Home Office training.

Sources of animal allergens

Most cases of allergic reaction when working with animals are associated with mice and rats. However, other species including hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets can also cause allergic reactions.

Sources of animal allergens include:

  • Fur, hair and dander
  • Secretions such as urine, saliva and droppings
  • Mites in animal bedding

There is no defined exposure limit to animal allergens. Even low level, short-term exposure may cause an allergic reaction. For this reason, we need to be very rigorous in controlling exposure.


Allergic symptoms due to contact with, or inhalation of animal allergens; can progress to more serious symptoms of asthma or dermatitis.

Allergic symptoms include:

  • Itching, watering or redness around the eyes
  • Itchy, stuffy or runny nose
  • Itching, cracked skin or small blisters
  • Coughing, chest tightness and shortness of breath
Assessing the risks

All work involving the handling of animals must be assessed, both the risk of exposure to allergens and that from any procedures need to be considered. 

Risks from allergens

Please think about: 

  • Numbers and species of animals handled
  • Routes of exposure - airborne vs direct contact
  • Nature of the work and duration - e.g. scientific procedures, cleaning, feeding and transport
  • Who could be exposed - e.g. staff, students, maintenance staff and contractors

Risks from procedures 

Please think about:

  • Hazardous substances used - chemical, biological (including any genetically modified micro-organisms) or radiological
  • Means of administration of substances - e.g. in food/water or by injection
  • Fate of any administered substance - could it be metabolised, shed or excreted in a harmful form
  • Use of any specialised equipment - e.g. lasers, imaging devices.
  • How might the equipment be decontaminated especially if used by others
Declaration of risks

If work is carried out in a Biological Services Unit (BSU), a declaration of risks must be completed and returned to the Unit Manager before work can start. 

This is not a risk assessment but simply a means of communicating the relevant risks from your risk assessment to BSU staff so that they can take appropriate precautions to protect themselves during routine husbandry tasks and also ensure the correct means of disposal of any hazardous waste generated during your work.

Managing the risks

General control measures

All work with animals should take place within a BSU unless specialised equipment or facilities, not otherwise available in the BSU, are required.

Work carried out outside of BSUs must only take place in a Departmental registered room. Requests for new rooms must be made to the local BSU Manager; their suitability will be assessed by BSU staff and Safety Services before seeking Home Office approval for registration. Existing registered rooms are listed in the Home Office Establishment licence; a copy of which is usually held locally by BSU managers.

The following good occupational safety and hygiene measures should be used for all work with animals, whatever the location of the work:

  • No eating, drinking, taking of medication, application of cosmetics or write-up (other than the taking of brief notes, or recording of data as required by the BSU or by the ASPA) is allowed in areas where animals are housed or handled.
  • Cuts, grazes and any other abrasions on hands should be covered with a waterproof dressing before starting work.
  • Rings, bracelets and watches should not be worn as they may harbour allergens or skin irritants.
  • Any spillages of animal body fluids should be cleaned up immediately using an appropriate disinfectant.
  • Hands should be washed after any physical contact with animals or equipment and also after removal of protective clothing when leaving the animal facility/room.
  • Personal protective equipment including respiratory protective equipment must be stored such that it does not contaminate non-contaminated clothing and equipment or disposed of after use.

Specific allergen controls

In addition, please also refer to 

> Control measures in Biological Services Units

> Control measures in registered rooms

Health Surveillance

All staff and postgraduate students who may be exposed to animal allergens at work (including maintenance staff) must be enrolled in the health surveillance programme delivered by UCL Workplace Health. 

The health surveillance programme

The programme includes

  • Baseline screening - must be undertaken before any exposure takes place.
  • Further screening at regular intervals.
Annual recall

You must either

  • attend Workplace Health for spirometry and complete a health questionnaire, or
  • complete a health questionnaire, depending on your level of allergen exposure.

You must maintain an up-to-date health clearance by attending any follow-up appointments and/ returning your health questionnaires.

If you do not attend your recall appointments or complete questionnaires, Workplace Health will advise your managers/supervisors that you should avoid exposure to animal allergens until satisfactory health surveillance has been undertaken.

Experiencing symptoms

If you experience any symptoms of allergy at any time, you must report this to your manager/supervisor and make an appointment with Workplace Health for an assessment of symptoms - don't wait for your annual recall. Depending on the outcome of any investigations, Workplace Health will work with you and your manager/supervisor and provide advice on controls and/or adjustments to work that will allow you to continue to work if possible.

> Further information on the health surveillance programme at UCL

Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)

RPE are a particular type of personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to protect the wearer from breathing in hazardous substances..

Why wear RPE? 

Although ventilation and good working practices will control the amount of allergen you are exposed to, there may still be potential for exposure. So you may need to wear properly fitted, appropriate respiratory protectice equipment (RPE) too.

RPE may not be required in certain circumstances as follows:

  • In BSUs where all animals are housed in individually ventilated cages (IVCs) and all procedures are carried out using local exhaust ventilation (LEV) - you will be informed of local arrangements when you enter specific units.
  • In registered rooms where all work takes place using LEV or else appropriate measures are in place to control the amount of airborne allergen and/or direct contact with allergens.

If your work does not fall into these categories, then RPE must be worn.

What type of RPE?

Most people will be able to use a tight-fitting disposable mask with appropriate filtering efficiency. These are often known as FFP2 or FFP3 masks.

If disposable masks are not suitable for you (following a face fit test) e.g. because of face size/shape or facial hair, a powered airstream hood must be used.

Using RPE

Whatever RPE you use, you will be shown how to wear and fit it on a day-to-day basis and how it should be disposed of or cleaned, if reusable.

You should only remove your RPE after other protective clothing to control exposure to allergens.

Fit testing

The performance of tight-fitting masks depends on achieving good contact between the wearer's skin and the face seal of the mask. As people come in all shapes and sizes it is unlikely that one particular type or size of RPE mask will be suitable for all users.

Anyone using tight-fitting masks must be face-fit tested to make sure that they have a mask that provides protection.

> UCL provides a fit testing service which can be arranged online.


Heads of department

Must ensure that all those working with animals are registered for health surveillance with UCL Workplace Health.

Managers and supervisors

Must ensure that local exhaust ventilation (LEV) used to control exposure to animal allergens (or other airborne contaminants) is independently examined, tested and maintained every 14 months. They must also maintain a record of staff on the health surveillance programme and record of health surveillance outcomes


Must maintain up-to-date health clearance for work involving exposure to animal allergens while they carry out this work. Staff must also promptly report any symptoms of allergy to their manager and to Workplace Health.

Estates Division

Will ensure that general room ventilation systems within Biological Services Units are examined, tested and maintained and keep records of this process.

Director of Biological Services

Will ensure that BS facilities are designed and managed so as to control exposure to laboratory animal allergens and provide adequate personal protective equipment for all those working in BSUs (including maintenance staff and contractors.

Biological Services unit managers

Will enforce the use of the correct personal protective equipment within BSUs.

Workplace Health

Will provide baseline and ongoing health surveillance and recall programmes; give advice on adjustments to work to reduce exposure to animal allergens and on symptoms of sensitisation and the importance of early referral for occupational health advice; identify suspected cases of sensitisation and occupational asthma and, if necessary, report cases of confirmed occupational asthma or dematitis to the Health and Safety Executive.

Safety Services

Working with Biological Services, will provide advice in relation to requests for new departmental registered rooms and ensure that the appropriate arrangements are in place to protect human health and safety before the room is recommended for designation.

Training and competency 

All those undertaking work with animals must undertake the following training before starting work:

Last updated: Tuesday, July 14, 2020


Biological Services Unit (BSU): a centrally managed animal unit providing facilities and infrastructure for research.

Departmental Registered Room/Area: a room or area within a room used for procedures listed on the Home Office Establishment License Schedule of Premises that is not located within a Biological Services Unit.

Individually ventilated cage (IVC): a cage which can provide protection to both the animal and those working with animals.

Local exhaust ventilation (LEV): an engineering control system to reduce exposures to airborne contaminants such as dust, mist, fume, vapour or gas in a workplace.

Occupational asthma: respiratory symptoms (cough, wheeze, chest tightness, shortness of breath) caused by substances inhaled at work.