Module 2      Physical Safety

The purpose of module 2 is to provide information to prevent injuries associated with wildlife damage management (WDM). Check state and local guidelines as well as regulations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). When advising people on dealing with human-wildlife conflicts, it is important to emphasize physical safety. WDM can be dangerous work. Hazards arise from animals, diseases, tools, and work environments.

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe important safety considerations when choosing work clothing such as shoes, shirts, and pants.
  2. Explain when to consider respiratory protection.
  3. Describe 3 considerations for safe handling of animals.
  4. Explain how animals can transmit diseases to humans.

Risks Associated with WDM

Wildlife damage management is a physically demanding job that can expose you to a wide variety of threats to physical well-being. Risks related to WDM are associated with:

  1. the physical environment,
  2. environmental conditions,
  3. specialized equipment, and
  4. handling animals.

The physical environment refers to dangers such as drop offs (Figure 1), low hanging branches, and enclosed spaces. Environmental risks include working in hazardous weather conditions (e.g., icy roofs) and extreme temperatures. The equipment you use in WDM can be hazardous and animals can bite, scratch, and transmit diseases. Reducing the risk of contracting diseases will be addressed in the following chapter.

Figure 1. Falls from embankments can occur if you are distracted. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Reducing Risk


Remember the proverb, “familiarity breeds contempt” when dealing with safety issues. When you become comfortable, you may become complacent. Complacency often results in injuries. The best safety equipment is useless if you lack awareness of the threats posed by misuse of the equipment. Always ask yourself about the potential dangers you face before engaging in a particular activity. Anticipating risks and preparing for them is the best way to avoid injuries.

Safety against physical and environmental threats

Beware of hyperthermia and hypothermia, especially when working in extremely hot or cold environments. Other physical and environmental hazards include utility wires, branches, uneven terrain, and other features that can cause scrapes, punctures, or falls.


Shoes should cover your entire foot and be comfortable to wear. Soles should be appropriate for the ground conditions you will encounter. Safety shoes with impact-resistant toes and insoles protect against injury.

Shirts should be comfortable and loose fitting to allow freedom of movement. Wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket to protect against the sun, abrasion, and other environmental hazards.

Pants should be comfortable and allow for full leg movement. Choose pants made of material that resists wear due to abrasion when squeezing into small spaces. Generally, long pants are preferable.

Safety Equipment

Flashlights and good lighting are critical for safety. In fact, good lighting can prevent the need to enter dangerous situations.

Figure 2. Plastic and leather gloves are essential safety items. Photo by University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Leather gloves have multiple uses. Have a pair for general protection and a thicker pair for handling animals. Some people prefer welder’s gauntlets. Select gloves that you actually will wear. Leather gloves should be large enough to fit latex or nitrile gloves underneath (Figure 2). We recommend that you always wear gloves while performing any wildlife control activity.

A respirator may be one of the most infrequently used pieces of safety equipment, but it is important in certain circumstances. Get a medical evaluation to ensure you are healthy enough to use a respirator. Proper fit testing is essential. A good feel does not necessarily mean a mask has a good seal. Replace filters in accordance with manufacturer recommendations. Select a half-face respirator with a particulate-filtering face piece rated at N100 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (Figure 3). This respirator will be sufficient for most general inspections of sheds and basements.

Use a full-face mask before entering crawl spaces, attics, or when the risk of airborne dust is high. Consult OSHA.gov for the latest guidelines on use of face masks.

Have a first aid kit available and up to date. Cuts and scrapes occur when performing wildlife control. A kit should include Band-Aids®, gauze bandages, tape, antiseptic ointment, and triangular bandages.

Figure 3. Half-face respirator suitable for routine attic inspections. Photo by Wildlife Control Supplies, LLC.

Waterless hand sanitizer reduces the risk of infection when soap and water are 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.

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.

Basic crawl space safety

If an animal problem is under a deck or in a crawl space, wear a properly fitted full-face mask before opening the entrance. Always carry two sources of light and have someone else present. Illuminate the area before entering. Look carefully before crawling in as you may come into contact with feces or animals.

Use of equipment

The tools that are necessary for any particular job can pose risks to the user. Be aware of any potential danger from handling equipment. For instance, you may cut yourself on the sharp edge of a cage trap. Keep all equipment in optimal working condition, read and follow all manufacturer instructions, and obtain training whenever possible.

Injury due to wildlife

Wild animals are unpredictable.  Do not underestimate the strength, quickness, and agility of animals. While an attack from an animal is unlikely, it can occur when animals are startled or cornered. Animals can cause injury through bites and scratches.

Keep your distance from animals. You cannot be bitten or scratched if an animal cannot touch 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 getting bitten and allowing the animal to escape, let the animal get away.

Inform your doctor that you work with wildlife so he or she will consider some of the wildlife-related diseases and vaccinations that normally would not be considered for the general public. Tell your doctor about any work with animals you have performed. Carry a card that, in the case of an emergency, will inform medical personnel of your risk of exposure to diseases transmitted by wildlife (Figure 4). Wildlife diseases will be covered in more detail in Module 4.

Figure 4. This card can help inform medical personnel that you work with wildlife. Image by the CDC, USGS.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Gather various types of gloves or hand protection equipment. Try them on and evaluate how much protection they may provide and how much dexterity you have when wearing them. Which gloves provide the best balance of protection and dexterity?
  2. List three physical threats you may encounter while performing wildlife control.
  3. List four pieces of safety equipment and explain their use.
  4. Describe how you would prepare to enter a crawl space.
  5. List what you would include in a first aid kit and provide reasons for your selections.