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I have a question about appropriate PPE when cleaning dried pigeon poo. What is the appropriate MASK or particulate respirator for such a task?

Working in areas contaminated with bird and bat droppings can expose workers to fungi that can cause serious infections. These infections are called Histoplasmosis or Cryptococcosis.

When droppings or contaminated soil are disturbed, tiny particles called spores can be released into the air and infect a worker’s lungs. The resulting infections can be life-threatening, especially for those with weakened immune systems.

Learn more here.

To reduce the risk of infection, assume all droppings are contaminated and use personal protective equipment (PPE), including rubber boots, disposable gloves, disposable coveralls, and respiratory protection. Follow additional procedures to minimize the risk of infection, such as avoiding disturbing contaminated material and using a HEPA vacuum to clean up contaminated material. Disinfectants may be used for larger contamination.

Identify controls

Always assume droppings are contaminated. Take the following precautions to reduce your risk of infection: 

  • If you have a weakened immune system, you should consult your doctor before working in the area.
  • When removing large amounts of droppings, use the following types of personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • Rubber boots
    • Disposable gloves under work gloves
    • Disposable coveralls
    • Respiratory protection
  • Respirators should always be worn when working around bird or bat droppings and could range from an N95 filtering facepiece (for low-risk tasks) to a full facepiece air-purifying respirator or powered air-purifying respirator (for high-risk tasks). Require your employer run a risk assessment on the task to determine the appropriate level of respiratory protection.

Follow these additional procedures to minimize the risk of infection:

  • Eliminate the roost (nest) if the building is not going to be demolished and seal entry points if possible
  • Avoid disturbing material that could be contaminated to prevent the generation of dust and inhalation of spores
  • Never dry-sweep or dry-shovel material. Soak the material with water or a wetting agent to keep dust and spores down
  • Use a HEPA vacuum to clean up the contaminated material (if available)
  • Dispose of the waste in 6ml disposal bags and follow the disposal procedures outlined in your company’s health and safety policy
  • For larger contamination, a disinfectant may be used. For these applications, consult the manufacturer’s directions

Review, and if necessary, revise measures

Review the PPE requirements for the job with members of your DWG. Ensure they understand how to use each piece of equipment correctly.

Remember, your employer has a duty under section 21 of our OHS Act to provide such information, instruction, training or supervision as is necessary perform work safely.

Make sure respirators have been fit-tested and workers shown how to do a seal check.

Our Biological Agents webpage provides the following advice for HSRs

If you or your members have identified an activity where workers may be exposed to biological agents, the first step is to collect as much information as possible about the exposures.

Consider not only workers who may be directly exposed, but also other people who might be affected, such as cleaners, customers, etc. Talk to people and discuss with them how they actually do their work.

Remember, your rights as an HSR, include:

  • the right to information on any actual or potential hazards in the workplace
  • the right to carry out inspections
  • the right to seek the assistance of any person
  • the right to be consulted

What existing measures are in place? Does your employer provide adequate protection? What more could and should be done to reduce risks? Is it possible to get rid of the risk altogether?

See here for information on exposure types and control measures available.

If the exposure is unavoidable, it should be kept to a minimum by limiting the number of workers who exposed and reducing their exposure time.

Control measures must be tailored to the working processes. The employer also has the responsibility to provide the workers with information and training to enable them to recognise the hazards and to follow safe working procedures.

The measures which need to be taken to eliminate or reduce the risks to workers will depend on the biohazard, but there are several common actions that can be implemented:

  • Many biological agents are communicated via air, such as exhaled bacteria or toxins. The production of aerosols and dusts should be avoided during cleaning and/or maintenance
  • Good housekeeping, hygienic working procedures and use of relevant warning signs are key elements of safe and healthy working conditions
  • Many microorganisms have developed mechanisms to survive or resist heat, dehydration or radiation, for example by producing spores. The workplace must develop decontamination measures for waste, equipment and clothing, and appropriate hygienic measures for workers, as well as proper instructions for safe disposal of waste, emergency procedures, and first aid
  • In some cases preventative measures may include vaccinations for workers most at risk (an control measure that will be familiar to AMIEU members)

Contact your union if you have queries, or if you are concerned about the levels of risks due to biohazards in your workplace.

 

 

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