Job Safety

Overall learning objectives for this chapter

  1. Identify risks associated with the presence of nuisance wildlife and with wildlife control techniques.
  2. Understand how to protect yourself from falls, bites, heat stress, and wildlife diseases.
  3. Know which protective gear and safety equipment belongs in the NWCO “wardrobe.”
  4. Be familiar with the wildlife diseases that you’re most likely to encounter.
  5. Feel confident you can answer the common questions customers ask about wildlife diseases.
  6. Know who to contact if you’re dealing with a sick animal.

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 chapter, we’ll discuss risks related to NWCO 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 results are right there. What about those times when you see evidence of possible problems?

What’s the worst that could happen? How likely is it? Can the situation be prevented? These are the kinds of questions that will help you put things into perspective. For example, wildlife in the Northeast could potentially expose a person to about 200 different diseases. We’ll only discuss nine of them because the chances of being exposed to the others are very low.

NWCOs are more likely to be hurt by a car accident or a fall from a ladder than from a wild­life-related disease, but it’s West Nile that makes the news, isn’t it? We hope this chapter will help you better understand the risks posed by your work, so you can make good choices.


Learning objectives

4.1 List four risks that nuisance wildlife pose to your customers’ health and safety.

4.2         Identify an example of wildlife damage that might concern a: business owner, apartment dweller, wildlife biologist, home owner, farmer, or government official.

4.3         Name two ways a method used to remove wildlife pests can be dangerous to the environment and people.

Risks that may come with the pests

When some wild species move in, they can put your customers and their property at risk. Some people don’t understand the possibilities until it’s too late. Others overreact. By offering credible information in a professional manner, you can help your customers make sensible decisions.

There are safety risks. Rodents, raccoons, and birds can cause fires by chewing wires or blocking vents or fans with their nests (fan motors might overheat and ignite the highly flammable nest materials). If a nest blocks a chimney, dangerous fumes could be trapped inside. Chewed wires may also cause electronic systems to fail—imagine the consequences in a jail or hospital. As previously mentioned, wildlife may collide with airplanes and cars.

And health risks. You, your customers, their pets and livestock might be bitten, scratched, or exposed to a wildlife disease, such as rabies. NWCOs are more likely to encounter a wildlife disease 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 close presence of wild animals (and their fur, dander, droppings, or parasites) can also trigger allergies in some people. Wild animals are often noisy at night, which might deprive your customers of sleep. That doesn’t sound too bad, until it’s happened night after night after night.

Nuisance wildlife pose financial risks. To gain entrance to a building, some animals might destroy parts of the exterior. Once inside, they might chew or soil woodwork and many other materials; items stored in attics are particularly vulnerable. Raccoons and mice often ruin insulation, causing heating and cooling bills to rise. Chewed wires, of course, might need replacement, which can be expensive. Remember some of the estimates of damage to crops, landscapes, dams, and roads mentioned in the introduction?

They may threaten other wildlife or change habitats. A nuisance animal may introduce a disease to another species. In large numbers, the nuisance species might kill and eat many of that other species, or destroy their habitat.

Some of the removal methods present their own dangers to people and the environment. An improperly set trap may capture or injure the wrong species, and could even be hazardous to people. If misused, pesticides can contaminate water, soil, and air. They can kill other species too, including beneficial organisms that help control pest populations. Certain pesticides and euthanasia products can also be dangerous to people. Even exclusion, one of the favored methods, has risks associated with it, because a highly motivated animal may damage the building to get back in, especially if it has young inside.

Has a giant alien worm invaded the lawn, ready to strike your customer’s child? No, of course not. These are mole tunnels, made by a creature that poses few health or safety risks to people. If this happened to the greens of a golf course, the manager might consider it as a financial risk. Whether or not your customers call this a nuisance depends on their perspectives.

Higher, deeper, further…

  • Walk around your neighborhood and look for signs of wildlife damage.
  • Start a file of newspaper clippings of stories about nuisance wildlife problems.
  • Ask your friends, neighbors, or local business people if they’ve experienced any losses caused by wildlife.


Before you move on, you may wish to review the learn­ing objectives for this section:

  1. List four risks that nuisance wildlife pose to your customers’ health and safety.
  2. Identify an example of wildlife damage that might concern a: business owner, apartment dweller, wildlife biologist, home owner, farmer, or government official.
  3. Name two ways a method used to remove wildlife pests can be dangerous to the environment and people.


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:

  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.

Review questions

  1. Diseases that people can catch from animals or from contact with their habitats are called
  2. “epinotic diseases”
  3. “zooposies”
  4. “zoonotic diseases”
  5. “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.)



Learning objectives

4.11 List the safety equipment you’re likely to use when working in an attic.

4.12 Identify the kind of gloves worn to handle: large mammals, small mammals, birds, and snakes.

4.13 Know which government agency rates respirators.

If you’re running your own show, you can make personal decisions about whether or not to use certain precautions. But once you have ten employees, the government insists on certain standards that are enforced by OSHA regulations.

Gloves are an indispensable safety tool. The type needed depends on the situation, but disposable vinyl or latex gloves are the most versatile choice (some people are allergic to latex and must use vinyl). When applying certain chemicals, such as some pesticides, you may need to wear a specific type of gloves. You’ll probably want to keep a variety of gloves handy.

Lightweight leather work gloves are usually adequate for handling small birds and snakes. With larger birds and mammals, wear thick, leather gloves or gloves made with KevlarTM (the stuff in bulletproof vests), or perhaps even welder’s gloves. This is especially important if you think the mammal might be rabid, or if it’s agitated. Unfortunately, some carnivores can bite through the strongest gloves, and no glove can protect you from a crushing injury.

Although safety will probably be the most important factor when you choose gloves, there are other things to think about, too. For comfort, mobility, and out of kindness to the animal, select the lightest pair you can. Thick, heavy gloves make it harder to feel how the animal is responding to being handled, and may cause you to grasp it too tightly.

The smart, stylish NWCO wardrobe includes·             animal handling gloves (KevlarTM or heavy leather gauntlets)·       disposable rubber or plastic gloves·       protective eyewear, such as goggles·       respirators and dust masks·       disposable coveralls with hoods·       disposable shoe covers·       rubber boots·       kneepads·       helmet, safety ropes, harnesses (to connect to all the devices used to secure ladders)

Protective clothing can range from long-sleeved cotton shirts that help prevent scratches to disposable coveralls used in areas that could be contaminated with diseases, or when working with pesticides. (If you use pesticides, you’ll have to pay added attention to your clothing, including the way you launder it.)

Knee pads protect you while you’re crawling around in attics and crawlspaces.

Goggles or similar eye protection are important in many circumstances.

A specialized respirator will help protect you from inhaling such disease agents as fungal spores, viruses, and bacteria, but only if it fits properly. They’re good precautions if you’re in a disease hot spot (such as an attic, crawlspace, or an area near a large bat or bird roost) or if you are likely to disturb droppings or encounter contaminated soil or rodent nests.

There are many different kinds of respirators. Your choice will depend on many factors such as which disease you’re trying to avoid, whether or not you have a beard or mustache, how much weight you can carry, and how much mobility you need. One of the most versatile designs is the half-face respirator with filter. Look for a NIOSH-approved respirator (“NIOSH” stands for “National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.” It’s part of the CDC.) For the OSHA standards about respirators, check respirator.html.

Safety helmets range from “bump caps” to helmets with visors. Some helmet designs attach snuggly to the head to give added protection in case of a fall.

When you’re finished with your job, disinfect your gloves with a household or commercial disinfectant or a dilute bleach solution before you remove them. If the situation requires a respirator, keep it on until you’ve safely dealt with the rest of your clothing and gear. You may want to wear a respirator and goggles when you clean your truck, especially if you use a power washer, which could splash contaminants around.

Disposable clothing can be placed with other contami­nated materials and double-bagged for removal to a landfill or other approved disposal facility. Then wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap.

Another good general precaution is to tell your doctor about what you do for a living. This will alert your doctor to consider some of the wildlife-related diseases, which probably wouldn’t be considered otherwise.

Higher, deeper, further

  • Imagine you are about to hire an employee. List the safety equipment you’ll need to buy for that worker, and price it out.
  • Find a few options for additional training in the safe use of ladders and respirators. Pursue whichever educational opportunity you like best.
  • Attend an OSHA training program. They are some times offered by community colleges.


Before you move on to the next section, you may wish to review the learning objectives for this section:

11 List the safety equipment you’re likely to use when working in an attic.

12 Identify the kind of gloves worn to handle: large mammals, small mammals, birds, and snakes.

13 Know which government agency rates respirators.