WCO Safety

The following information was written for professionals – wildlife control operators. It contains information that may be helpful to the nonprofessional who is interested in managing human-wildlife conflicts. Be aware that the article was written in the 1990s, so some safety recommendations and requirements may have changed since then, particularly related to personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators. Search National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH) or Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) for updates.

Stephen M. Vantassel
Program Coordinator-Wildlife Damage Management
Affiliation-University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Brenda K. Osthus
Director for Environmental Health and Safety
Affiliation-University of Nebraska-Lincoln


The goals of this section are:

  1. to develop awareness of safety issues and to adopt a mindset of “safety first,”
  2. to review the major safety threats that WCOs face,
  3. to provide basic information for WCOs to protect themselves, and
  4. to list resources for further information and training.

Wildlife damage management (WDM) is an exciting field with many opportunities to provide solutions to the complex issues involved in human-wildlife interactions. But WDM also confronts wildlife control operators (WCO) with a variety of threats to their physical well-being. Injuries can result from misused equipment, mishandled wildlife, harsh weather, and dangerous situations, such as electrical lines.

These threats are not hypothetical. Though no statistics are available for the WDM industry in particular, the authors are aware of several instances where WCOs have lost their lives or suffered serious injuries in the course of performing WDM. While accidents do happen, the fact is the vast majority of “accidents” are entirely preventable and occur due to hurried behavior, neglect of procedures, and lack of attention to the task at hand.

The US, Canada, and Mexico respectively have agencies tasked with setting and enforcing standards to assure safe and healthful conditions for workers. The US agency is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In Canada, it is the Labour Program, and in Mexico, the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) governs workplace requirements. Readers are encouraged to keep abreast of government safety regulations not only to adhere to the law but also to maintain a safe working environment.

Safety, however, is an extremely broad and complex topic. The number and diversity of situations that pose safety risks to WCOs are too numerous to address in detail in this chapter. This chapter focuses on safety risks to the WCOs’ physical wellbeing, such as injuries. Safety concerns pertaining to organizational design, worker supervision, disease, environmental or social catastrophes, or pesticides are beyond the scope of this chapter.

Safety First

One slogan says, “Safety is no accident.” We couldn’t agree more. Everyone must take safety seriously and follow that attitude with concrete action. For once the commitment fades, injuries are sure to follow. “Safety First” requires taking proactive steps to eliminate or manage risks of injury at the job site.

“Safety First” begins with the need for WCOs to maintain their physical and mental well-being. Wildlife damage management activities are demanding both physically and mentally. Poor diet, neglect of exercise, drug/alcohol/medications, and lack of sleep can increase the likelihood for injuries due to lack of physical fitness and decline in mental acuity. Maintenance of one’s physical and mental health is important especially during the long hours demanded of the busy season. Research has shown that persons working over 8 hours a day had significantly higher rates of injury when compared to those working 6 to 8 hours a day. Likewise, indivdiuals that slept less than 7 hours a day or who slept poorly experienced higher rates of injury.

Awareness of Hazards and Risk Reduction

Working safely begins with developing an awareness of the potential hazards associated with each job, then identifying strategies that can be used to reduce the risk of injury or illness. OSHA encourages use of a “Job Hazard Analysis” also known as “Hazard Analysis (HA)” as a method of identifying hazards and reducing risk of injury or illness. This method simply involves mentally or physically walking through the job and considering what could go wrong, circumstances that may cause or contribute to incidents, the expected consequences if an incident occurs, the likelihood of an incident occuring, and actions that can be taken to reduce the likelihood or consequences of an incident.  

Hazards to consider include potential for injuries from: impact, penetration, compression (roll-over or caught in/between), slips/trips/falls, sprains/strains, chemical inhalation/ingestion/contact, heat/cold or hot/cold surfaces, harmful dust, light (optical radiation), sound (high noise), biologic (animal assults or contact with infectious microorganisms harbored by animals), pressurized systems, electrical, and machine sources. We suggest recording the information using a simple 3 column table with headings titled basic job steps, potential hazards, and recommended hazard or risk reduction techniques.

After identifying hazards, select appropriate techniques or actions that will eliminate or reduce the risk of injury or illness. Obviously, if the hazard can be eliminated, it should be. When considering ways to eliminate a hazard, consider whether a safer material, process, or equipment is available or if modification or automation are possible. If the hazard can not be eliminated entirely, then risk reduction techniques/controls should be used.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) categorizes injury prevention controls into 3 categories of descending value, namely engineering, administrative, and personal protective equipment (PPE). If it is infeasible to eliminate the risk all together, the next best option is to implement some sort of engineering control to eliminate or reduce the risk. An engineering control eliminates a hazard or places a barrier between the worker and the hazard. For instance, the level sensor on a scissor lift prevents movement of the lift whenever the lift is off-balance. By installing this sensor, manufacturers eliminated the need to rely on operator opinion.

If an engineering control is not feasible, the next best option is administrative control(s). Administrative controls typically consist of rules or procedures to keep workers away from hazardous situations or substances. Examples of administrative controls include, posting of warning signs, worker training, job rotation to reduce the time of exposure to a hazard, and written safety protocols or procedures. Administrative controls are effective but not to the degree of engineering controls because they rely on supervisor oversight and worker compliance to be effective.

The final, and least desirable, control method is use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Personal protective equipment consists of specialized clothing and devices worn by the worker to shield them from potential hazards. Examples include gloves, safety spectacles, respirators, hearing protectors, and coveralls. Unfortunately, PPE is only effective if workers use the equipment and use it correctly. Too often, workers avoid using PPE because it is uncomfortable or makes completing the task more difficult. Though purchasing higher quality equipment can reduce some of these complaints, WCOs must understand that the long-term benefits of protection outweigh any short-term discomfort. Since most WDM activities occur in settings where engineering and administrative solutions are impractical, WCOs must frequently rely on PPE to protect themselves.

While HA, which consists of hazard identification and selection of risk reduction strategies, may appear tedious and accentuate the obvious, the process is essential for reinforcing the importance of safety as well as identifying potential hazards involved in the specific activity. Regular review of HAs also will reinforce safe practices and identify new risks and solutions. Consult OSHA 3071 Job Hazard Analysis 2002 (Revised) for more information.

We will discuss the following 4 areas of safe work practices:

  1. environmental conditions,
  2. dangerous locations,
  3. basic equipment including personal protective equipment (PPE),
  4. vehicle safety,
  5. and crime prevention

Environmental Conditions

Wildlife control activities take place under a variety of weather conditions and landscapes. While WCOs cannot control the environment or the habitat, they can reduce the risk of injury by not working when the conditions are the most threatening.


Most WDM activities occur outdoors where WCOs are exposed to various environmental conditions. Wildlife control operators should monitor weather reports to ensure that they are prepared for the forecasted conditions. Though forecasts are not perfect, meteological science has improved enough to have high confidence in forecasts 72 hours hence. Particular attention should be paid to the following threats from weather as they have significant impacts on human health and safety.

Ultraviolet Radiation

Sunlight is a critical source of light and energy for the planet. Unfortunately, the benefits of light are accompanied by damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Long-term exposure to UV radiation significantly raises the likelihood of developing skin cancer and cataracts. Ultraviolet radiation is strongest between 10 A.M. and 2 P.M., on clear sunny days, and at high elevations. Clouds, haze, and dust disperse UV radiation but do not eliminate exposure.

Wildlife control operator should protect themselves against execessive exposure to UV radiation by wearing long-sleeve shirts, pants, and broad-rimmed hats whenever possible. Apply a generous amount of sun screen lotion (SPF 15 or higher) to exposed skin. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming or excessive sweating. Corrective lenses manufacturered to US standards will protect eyes to varying degrees based on lens composition (e.g., polycarbonate, plastic, glass) from UV-A and UV-B radiation. Select prescription glasses and sunglasses rated to protect against passage of 99% (or higher) UV-A and UV-B rays. Darkness of the lens does not affect a len’s ability to block UV rays.

The National Weather Service has developed a UV Alert System that provides a numeric scale (0-16) for UV radiation for the day. Ratings of 6 or higher are considered high.


Excessive environmental heat is a leading cause of weather-related death in the US. Hot weather hinders the body’s ability to cool itself which leads to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The National Weather Service created the Heat Index (HI) to quantify how hot people will “feel.” The HI is calculated based on air temperature and relative humidity (Figure 2). Alerts are issued when the Index is expected to exceed 105°F. Workers exposed to direct sunlight should adjust their work schedules even more as the HI assumes shaded conditions. You may wish to download OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool as an app for your Android or iPhone smart phone (https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html). It will calculate the HI and provide suggestions to protect workers from heat-related injuries.

Workers operating in high HI conditions should be alert to signs of painful muscle cramps (heat cramps), extreme sweating accompanied by weakness (heat exhaustion), and altered mental state accompanied with lack of sweating (heat stroke). Heat exhaustion that fails to be treated can lead to the life threatening condition of heat stroke.

Schedule strenuous work, such as trench building and attic clean outs, to cooler months or at least cooler parts of the day. Take frequent breaks to cool down and rehydrate. Drink plenty of non-caffienated and non-alcoholic beverages. Use cool tubes, soak clothes in cool water, or wear cooling vests to reduce heat stress to your body.


Cold weather poses multiple threats to the well-being of workers. Excessive exposure to cold conditions can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when body parts are exposed to cold conditions for so long that the cells freeze. Frostbite typically occurs with extremities (i.e. hands, feet, nose, and ears). Hypothermia sets in when the core body temperature dips below 95°F. Both sets of injuries can occur slowly or rapidly depending on the temperature and the body’s ability to maintain the heat envelope around it.

Workers should be alert to signs and symptoms of frostbite, such as reddened skin or skin turning pale. Workers should suspect hypothermia when noticing excessive shivering or loss of mental acuity. Anyone showing aforementioned signs should be moved to shelter and medical personnel contacted. Workers should prepare themselves for cold conditions by wearing layers of clothing and protecting themselves from wind and rain. Special attention should be given to clothing to protect hands and feet.  

Cold temperatures also cause dangerous environmental conditions through snow and ice. Snow and ice combine to create slip hazards that result in numerous injuries each year. Walk with a slow and deliberate gait, hold onto handrails, and wear slip resistant shoes to reduce risk of falling. Drive in a more defensive manner to account for reduced stopping distances. Install snow tires. Workers should create emergency kits for their vehicles in case they become stranded. Kits should include, blanket, flashlight, heat packs, cell phone and charger, emergency road signs, high calorie, non-perishable food, battery cables, water container, matches, shovel, tow rope, tissues, and first aid kit.


Lightning poses significant threats to human health. Ninety percent of indivduals struck by lightning suffer disabilities of varying degrees. Seek shelter inside substantial buildings or hard-topped vehicles. A good rule of thumb is “When thunder roars, go indoors” because lightning can kill individuals miles away from the storm clouds. Avoid the temptation to leave shelter when the rain stops because lightning can still strike as the thunderhead is moving away from the area.


Tornados present severe threat to safety due to their unpredictability both in arrival and their path. Though warning systems have been set up in many areas, WCOs should not assume they will hear them. Fortunately, several cell phone apps are available to warn users of alerts issued by the National Weather Service. We strongly recommend WCOs download one suitable for their phone.

Dangerous Locations

Several dangerous situations confront WCOs frequently enough to warrant special mention.

Confined Spaces

The OSHA defines confined spaces as locations that have limited or restricted entry or exit and are not designed for continuous occupancy. Confined spaces require special attention if they may contain hazards such as exposed electrical wires, hazardous atmospheres, extreme temperatures, moving parts or machinery, low light conditions, or engulfment (e.g., water, deep grain, etc.). Examples of confined spaces that WCOs typically would enter, include attics, knee wall cavities, pits or sumps, crawl spaces, and sewers.

Before entering a confined space, WCOs need to ensure the following:

  • Access is clear and the space is large enough and configured to allow safe entry and exit,
  • Two sources of light are available, such as a spot light and hands-free light,
  • The space is well ventilated or ventilation is established and the task at hand does not have potential to create a hazardous atmosphere (e.g., spraying/fogging of pesticides, torch cutting),
  • PPE is used and appropriate to the space conditions and intended task, and
  • Identified hazards are eliminated before entering the space (e.g., disengaging electrical service to the area if exposed wires are suspected, isolating water valves, shutting off unguarded fans, etc.).

WCOs are strongly encouraged to use a portable meter to check the atmosphere of unventilated confined spaces or spaces that may contain chemical vapors before entering. Confined space meters are commercially available and most are configured to detect oxygen content, combustible vapors, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide. OSHA regulations state that a confined space potentially containing an uncontrolled hazard (atmospheric or other) must be entered only under the terms of a written permit system.

Wear PPE prior to opening hatchways. Hatchways need to be opened carefully to minimize disturbance of dust and debris. Pause a few seconds before entering to allow dust to settle. Turn on flashlight and begin to investigate the area immediately surrounding the opening. Look for potential hazards, such as feces, exposed wires, vermiculite insulation, and animals. In attic areas, place weight only on the joists. Ideally, weight should be distributed across multiple joists by the use of a 2 x 8 board laid across the floor and secured in place with screws. Do not continue if the joists are bowing more than ¼ of an inch.

Heights and Roofs

A wise person once said, “It’s not the height or the fall that scares me, it’s the ground.” The concern is well placed as research shows that 30% of all injuries sustained by roofers result from falls or slips. The OSHA requires that fall protection proceedures be implemented whenever workers operate at 4 ft above an adjoining surface. Selection of fall protection equipment depends on the length of time at the work site, the type of work being peformed, the slope of the surface where work will be performed, and the height. For example, for short-term activities on low-slope roofs (10° or less; 2.12:12 pitch), flagged warning lines with minimum tension strength of 500 pds positioned 34 to 45 inches above the roof  and 6 ft from the edge may be sufficient. For steeper angled surfaces, WCOs may need to use catch platforms, toe boards, railings, or personal fall protection equipment. Slopes greater than 36.26° (7:12 pitch) require personal fall protection, catch platforms, scaffold platforms, standard railings, or toeboards. Obtain training on the proper use of full-body harnesses before using them. Improper use of a full-body harnesses can result in severe injury and even death. Body-belts for fall protection have been banned since 1998.

Wear soft-soled shoes with good traction to reduce the risk of slipping. Avoid walking on roofs that are wet or have debris on them. Do not peform walk backwards or operate devices that require pulling unless anchored to a personal fall protection device. Operate on roofs in a manner appropriate to the roofing material. For example, roofs shingled with slate or pottery tile may crack or slip if walked on directly. In these situations, use of a ladder-hook to help distribute your weight may be a better option.


Falls due to improper use of ladders are a common source of job injuries for WCOs. Common types of ladders include extension, step, and articulating. Choose ladders with the appropriate duty rating for the load they will bear. Type IAA laders are rated to 375 pounds; Type IA to 300 pounds, and Type I to 250 pounds. The load includes the person and his tools. Do not exceed the duty rating of the ladder. Use ladders made from fiberglass or other material resistant to the flow of electricity when in proximity to sources of electricity. NIOSH has created a Ladder Safety app for smart phones that reviews ladder selection, inspection, positioning, accessorizing, and safe use. It is available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/falls/.

Basic Ladder Safety

Choose the correct ladder for the situation. Never use ladders in a manner for which they were not designed.

Check all ladders for damage and defects before each use. Ladders should not be bent, have splinters, have damaged welds, or have loose or damaged parts. The rubber fittings on the feet of the ladder should be in good condition. If they are not, replace them. Check stabilizers and levelers. If you are in doubt about the integrity of a ladder, mark it as unsafe and throw it away. Unsafe parts should be replaced with parts approved by the ladder manufacturer.

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 impede safe placement of the ladder. Consider potential for foot or vehicle traffic around the potential ladder site. If the area cannot be secured, find another location. Determine if you need assistance in placing the ladder safely. As a general rule, ladders taller than 16 feet (extending to 32 feet) require 2 workers. Never drag or drop a ladder. Ensure that the ladder is level and properly stabilized so it will not wobble.

Climb slowly and surely. Always face the ladder. Keep 3 parts of your body in contact with the ladder at all times (both hands and a foot, or both feet and a hand). 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. All steps and rungs should be clean and free of debris or other items that could cause slips. Ladder rungs must be parallel to the ground surface when the ladder is in use. Never lean or reach to the side; your shirt pockets should not extend beyond the sides of the ladder.

Never move the 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 encumbrances that could interfere with climbing and descending a ladder.

Vibration and jostling can damage ladders. Install heavy-duty ladder racks on service vehicles. Quality ladder racks protect the ladder from jostling damage as well as reduce the likelihood of losing ladders during accidents. Always check that ladders are secured properly to the vehicle BEFORE leaving the service site. Some WCOs place the ladder straps on the driver’s seat to ensure that they don’t drive off without securing the ladder.

Basic Extension Ladder Safety

Position the ladder at a suitable site (firm, stable, level, and away from foot and vehicle traffic). Position the base at the wall of the strucuture and walk up the ladder to a vertical position. Using the rope, extend the ladder to a length at least 3 feet higher than the edge of the roof or landing to be accessed. Ensure the proper ladder angle; the ladder should be 1 foot from the base of the supporting structure for every 4 feet of vertical distanc (4:1 ratio). 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 ratio. To test for proper alignment of the ladder, place your feet at the base of ladder and extend your arms straight forward (parallel to the ground). If the angle is appropriate, the palms of your hands should reach a rung on the ladder.

Diagram of proper positioning of a ladder
(20:5 = 4:1 ratio of rise to run). Image by NWCO Best Practices Guide.

Ensure that the ladder’s rung locks are engaged before climbing. Check that the the ladder’s feet are flush to a clean, dry, surface capable of holding the ladder in place. Use ladder straps, cinches, or other devices to secure the base of a ladder to prevent ladder kick outs. Kick outs occur when the base of the ladder dislodges from the ground.

Ladder cinch, such as this one by Werner, secure an extension ladder.

Secure the top of the ladder to the roof line to prevent horizontal sliding of the ladder. Failure to tie off ladders can allow wind gusts to push the ladder off of the structure, leaving you stranded on the roof, and possibly injuring someone during the fall. Stabilizers can reduce lateral motion by widening the contact of a ladder with a structure. Standoffs stabilize ladders but also prevent damage by keeping the ladder away from sensitive surfaces, such as gutters. Some standoffs allow for the ladder to be placed at corners of a building. Though not as secure as professionally manufactured devices, rope or strong wire can be used to secure the ladder to to gutter spikes or screws fastened to the fascia board. Dismount by stepping sideways onto the roof. Do not overstep the ladder to climb on the roof. Keep in mind that temperature fluctuations in the spring and fall can cause surfaces to be slippery due to condensation.

A stabilizer helps 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 Vantassel.

Fall protection equipment may be needed for some jobs, particularly when the task is conducted at heights and involves anything more than inspection of the roof area. Means of achieving adequate fall protection that is consistent with OSHA regulations is outside the scope of this chapter. Consult safety equipment suppliers for more information.

Anchoring Tips – Prevent Kick Out with Extension Ladders

  1. Move a vehicle bumper close to the base of a ladder.
  2. On decks or wooden surfaces, get permission to nail a 2 x 4 behind the feet of the ladder.
  3. On soil, use long stakes to anchor the base of the ladder to the ground (call Dig Safe® or a similar company first to find underground utilities).
  4. Use equipment specifically designed 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.
  6. Pad ropes so they do not chafe against roof edges.
  7. Be aware of electrical services to avoid electrocution. Maintain as much distance as possible from overhead power lines and conductors, and never closer than 10 ft. Use fiberglass ladders when working near live electrical services. If it is necessary to access areas closer than 10 ft from overhead conductors and power lines, call the electrical company and discuss the situation and possible approaches to safely conduct the work (e.g., power interruption, shielding, etc.).

Basic Step Ladder Safety

Select a step ladder appropriate in height and use for your situation. Reduce fatigue by using platform step ladders when you will remain in 1 location for an extended period of time. Never stand on the top 2 steps or use a step ladder when it is closed. Always stand in the middle of each step and fully extend and press the locks into place before climbing. Only stand on rungs designed to be steps.

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.

Additional Considerations

Carry a cell phone. Have 2 people present on jobs with extensive ladder work. If you do not feel safe on a ladder, do not continue. You can rent a bucket lift (Figure 8) or other type of mechanical lift. The rental agency will provide instructions, and personal fall protection (i.e., harness and lanyard) may be necessary depending on the type of lift. For more details on the proper use of ladders, visit OSHA’s website (www.osha.gov). Other reliable sources of information on ladder use includes, the American Ladder Institute and ladder manufacturers.

A buckt lift can provide a safer and more efficient way to work in high areas. Photo by Stephen Vantassel.


Many WDM activities occur on or near water, such as when trapping beaver or rounding up Canada geese. Water poses 2 primary risks namely, drowning and hypothermia.

Learn about the bodies of water you will be working around in advance. As a general rule, moving water (i.e. rivers or streams) is a greater hazard than still water (i.e. lake or pond). Monitor weather reports to prepare for slippery conditions, flooding, and especially flash floods.

Carry a strong walking stick to measure water depth and detect hidden terrain hazards when wading in streams and creeks. Wear U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets or buoyant work vests whenever work poses risk of drowning. Flotation devices are essential safety gear when operating water craft, and when working in fast moving water, or near water below 60°F. Cold water poses a particular risk because it can remove heat from a human body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. Even moderately cold water poses significant risk. Water with a temperature between 40 to 50°F can exhaust individuals in 30 to 60 minutes.


Though the threats to WCOs are too numerous to list, a few more are important enough to merit special attention.


Powerlines and exposed wires pose significant risk to WCOs. Do not place ladders closer than 10 ft to unprotected electrical wires. Ensure that your ladder will not come into contact with powerlines as you move it to and from the needed location. Be cautious when entering attics and other unfinished areas of a structure where wires may be exposed. Be particularly careful in older homes which have been exposed to extended damage by rodents and may have outdated wiring.


Exposure to asbestos continues to pose risks to WCOs due to the variety of products manufactured with it. Many homes have vermiculite insulation that contains asbestos. It is impossible to distinguish asbestos-containing vermiculite from non-asbestos containing vermiculite with the naked eye.  All vermiculite insulation is a pebble-like, pour-in product and is usually gray-brown or silver-gold in color (http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos/protect-your-family-asbestos-contaminated-vermiculite-insulation#identify). If you see vermiculite insulation do not disturb it. Doing so could lead to inadvertent inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers, which is a known serious health risk.  If it is necessary to disturb vermiculite insulation, have it tested by a qualified professional before conducting any work that will disturb it.  If the vermiculite contains asbestos, then it should be removed from the area where the work is needed by an asbestos-qualified contractor.

Lead Paint

Lead-based paint was used in many homes throughout the U.S. prior to 1978. Common repair activities, such as sanding, cutting, grinding etc. on surfaces painted with lead-based paint can liberate the lead and expose not only the WCO but also household members. Children are particularly susceptible to adverse health effects from exposure to lead.Therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency promulgated regulations that require anyone performing lead-based paint abatement or renovation, repair, or maintenenace activities for compensation in a home or child-occupied facility to be trained and certified in lead-safe work practices (40 CFR Part 745). If it is necessary to conduct activities in a pre-1978 home or child-occupied facility (e.g., daycare, school) that may disturb painted surfaces, the WCOs should inquire of the owner regarding the presence of lead-based paint. If no information is available, refrain from activities that may disturb the paint until such time as the surface to be disturbed is inspected and tested by a properly credentialed lead-based paint inspector.  If in doubt about prohibited activities, consult your local Health Department.

Basic Equipment

Basic equipment refers to those products that have multiple uses, including the protection and safety of the user. Though WCOs in urban situations have different equipment needs than those working in wilderness areas, the following equipment has uses in both settings.


Clothing plays an important role in protecting skin and feet from injury as well as helping maintain temperature homeostasis. All clothing should be made of durable materials capable of withstanding outdoor conditions. Choose fabrics appropriate to the environmental conditions you reasonably expect to encounter.

Hats are needed to protect your face from the sun, keeping rain out of your eyes, mInimizing body heat loss in cold conditions, and cushioning bumps to the head. Choose hats with adjustable clasps. Knit caps are preferable for protection against the cold.

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

Pants should be comfortable and allow for full leg movement. Pockets should be deep enough to hold equipment securely. Choose pants made of material capable of withstanding wear due to kneeling and tears incurred from squeezing into small spaces or walking through thorny bushes. Generally, long pants are preferable to shorts.

Shoes should cover the entire foot and be comfortable to wear and have soles suitable for the surfaces you expect to encounter. For example, flat-bottomed and slip resistant soles are needed on roofs to reduce the risk of falling. Safety shoes with impact-resistant toes and insoles protect against impact from heavy objects and penetration by sharp objects. 

Disposable coveralls should be used in areas that could be contaminated with infectious organisms (animal droppings are a common source of infection) or when working with pesticides. If you use pesticides, follow the label instructions on selection, use, and laundering of clothing. Consult the pesticide safety chapter for additional information on PPE related to pesticides.

Miscellaneous Equipment

Miscellaneous equipment refers to items important to reduce risk of injury but are not identified properly as PPE.


Good lighting is essential to operate effectively and safely. Situations where lighting is absent or inadequate are very dangerous because workers may not be able to identify imminent hazards, such as exposed nails or charging animals. We suggest that all WCOs have 3 lights available to them, namely a general light, a spotlight, and a hands-free light.

Modern flashlights can come with a variety of features, such as beam focus capability, various powering systems, water tolerance, and power levels. As a general rule, quality and features correlate with price. Unfortunately, comparing flashlights is difficult due to the various ways light strength is advertised. While we applaud the increasing number of manufacturers that are adopting standardized rating systems, we strongly suggest that users test lights before purchasing.

General flashlights are suitable for ordinary illumination of closets and walking areas (Figure 9). Incadenscent bulbs emit a white light useful for clearly illumating discolorations, such as rubmarks. However, advancements in light-emitting diode (LED) technology have produced flaslights that are more durable, brighter, and more efficient in battery consumption than their incandescent alternatives.

Figure 9. A hand-held flashlight suitable for general illumination. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel.

Spotlights are used for inspecting structures or performing night surveys of wildlife populations. The light beam should emit at least 500,000 candles in a beam that remains concentrated at 100 yards.

Hands-free lights are very useful when a task requires 2 hands. Lights should be capable of illuminating objects within 3 feet of the user, have adjustable straps, and the ability to adjust the beam’s focus and direction.

Infection Control

A first aid kit should be kept in your service vehicle. Cuts and scrapes occur daily. A kit should include Band-Aids®, gauze bandages, tape, antiseptic ointment, 2 quarts of sterile water, cold and heat packs, and triangular bandages.

Waterless hand sanitizer reduces the risk of infection when soap and water is not available. Choose sanitizers 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. Antiseptic disposable cloth wipes have the added benefit of helping to scrub away organic material where germs can hide.

A medical history will alert your doctor to consider some of the wildlife-related diseases that may not normally be considered for other patients. Tell your doctor about what you do for a living namely, that you work in close proximity with wildlife. Your doctor may recommend certain vaccinations based on your occupational hazards.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Protective gloves are required at various times for everyone working in WDM. Leather and cloth gloves help keep hands clean as well as protect them from the cuts and scrapes, and animal bites. Unfortunately, increases in hand protection result in loss of tacticle sensitivity and dexterity. Thus WCOs should have at leat 2 types of protective gloves, 1 for general protection and another for handling animals or heavier duty applications. Select gloves that provide protection and sufficient dexterity for your needs.

Leather and cloth gloves are not designed to protect against chemical or infectious material hazards. Generally, these hazards will require an impervious rubber-like glove. Surgical exam-like gloves should be worn when contact with potentially infectious agents is possible (e.g., contact with animal feces or secretions). These may be worn under leather or cloth gloves (Figure 10), but the outer gloves must be washed after use and before being worn again. Chemical-resistant gloves are made from a variety of materials (e.g., butyl, nitrile, latex, neoprene), each with resistance to different classes of chemicals. They also come in varying mils of thickness. Consult the glove manufacturer to determine which glove is best suited to your particular need. Latex can cause allergic responses in some people. 

Figure 10. Plastic and leather gloves are essential safety items. Photo by UNL.

Knee pads protect your knees when crawling in attics and crawl spaces.

Trauma to the head can result in long-term disability and death for the victim. Increasingly, researchers are raising concerns over how multiple small bumps to the head can affect the brain negatively over the long-term. Helmets/hard hats or bump caps can provide significant protection against head trauma, but the proper type of head protection must be selected based on the potential hazard. Helmets or hard hats are designed to specific ANSI standards and are intended to provide protection from impact blows from falling or moving objects (Figure 11). They may also be rated to provide protection from electrical shock. Bump caps, on the other hand, are indended to provide protection from injury resulting from bumping the head against fixed objects. Helmets seldom are worn by WCOs. Helmets are cumbersome and sometimes a detriment when they obstruct your view. A bump cap provides an alternative to a helmet. It provides sufficient protection against the bumps that occur while in an attic, crawl space, or other area with limited head clearance. But, bump caps offer no protection from falling objects or electricity. Wear head protection appropriate for the situation in which you will be working.  

Figures 11. Helmet. Photo by Brenda Osthus.

Eye protection must be worn when the eyes are at risk of being injured, irritated, or burned. Do not rely on ordinary corrective lenses, unless they have been manufactured to meet ANSI safety eyewear standards. Select the eye protection appropriate to the hazard. Safety spectacles with side shields provide protection against impact injuries (Figure 12a). Goggles provide protection against impact, dust, and splashes (Figure 12b). Face shields can be paired with goggles or safety spectacles to provide protection to the whole face. However, a face shield should never be considered a substitute for protective eyewear; it is only a supplement.

Figures 12a, b. (Left) Protective eyeglasses and (Right) goggles. Photo by Brenda Osthus.

Hearing protection should be worn to protect against noise-induced hearing loss. OSHA’s noise exposure limit is 90 dBA (decibels, A-weighted scale) expressed as an 8-hour Time Weighted Average (TWA). This means that the exposure limit is a function of sound intensity (sound pressure level) and duration (time) of exposure. For every 5 dBA increase in sound level pressure, the allowable exposure time is halved. For example, the maximum exposure time is 4 hours for noise at 95 dBA; 2 hours for noise at 100 dBA; 1 hour for noise at 105 dBA; 30 minutes for noise at 110 dBA; and 15 minutes for noise at 115 dBA. Normal conversation is about 60 dBA; a hand drill operates at about 98 dBA; and an ambulance siren is about 120 dBA. Sound meters are available for less than $100. Though not as accurate, sound measuring apps for a cell phone are available for just a few dollars.

Hearing protection comes in 3 forms, ear canal caps, ear plugs, and ear muffs. Ear canal caps are not recommended. Ear plugs and ear muffs can be used individually or in combination (Figures 13a, b). Noise attenuation varies between different makes, models, and manufacturers of hearing protectors, and is expressed as a Noise Reduction Rating (NRR). The higher the NRR, the greater the attenuation. Select hearing protectors with adequate sound attenuation and use the devices correctly to achieve the necessary level of protection. For example, if the noise generated by an operation is measured at 100 dBA, hearing  protection with a NRR of 15 will attenuate the sound to 85 dBA.  Research has shown that many workers receive only a small fraction of the hearing protection due to improper fitting. As with respirators, hearing protection only works when worn properly.

Figures 13 a, b, c. (Left and Right) Ear plugs and (middle) ear muffs. Photo by Brenda Osthus.

Respirators protect workers from exposure to airborne particles and chemical vapors that can damage their health. A wide variety of respirators are available, and proper selection depends on the type and concentration of contaminant. Respirators may be disposable or reuseable. They may be tight-fitting to the face or of a hood-like design. Tight-fitting respirators may be quarter, half, or full face. Regardless, only NIOSH-approved respirators should be used. Dust masks available at the local hardware store are not usually suitably constructed to qualify as a true respirator.

Respirators add physical demands to the body, which is why OSHA regulations stipulate that persons who wear respirators must be medically-qualified. This means that a physician has determined that you are physically capable of wearing a respirator without posing significant risk to your health.

Most respirators are designed to filter contaminants from the air that you breathe. Therefore, they will not provide protection in oxygen-deficient atmospheres. In addition, the type of filter used with the respirator must be appropriate to the airborne contaminants. Particulate filters will not protect against chemical vapors. Chemical vapor cartridges will not protect against particulates, and are particular to the type of chemical vapor (e.g., acids, organic vapors, ammonia, etc.). When more than 1 type of contaminant is present, it may be necessary to use combination cartridges. 

NIOSH has established designations to identify the appropriate use conditions for different types of particulate filters. Filters with an “N” designation are not resistant to oil. Filters with an “R” designation are somewhat resistant to oil. Filters with a “P” designation are strongly resistant to oil.  Filters with a “95” designation will filter at least 95% of the airborne particulates.  Filters with a “99” designation will filter at least 99% of the airborne particulates. Filters with a “100” designation will filter at least 99.97% of the airborne particles.  These designations are used in combination. For example, if oils are expected in the atmosphere then R95, R99, or P95 or P99 filters should be selected. Filters and vapor cartridges have limited life-span and need to be replaced at the manufacturer’s recommended interval, which will vary with environmental conditions. They must be protected from contamination when not in use, and respirators must be cleaned and cared for properly. Disposable respirators should not be used more than once.

Other than loose-fitting, hood-type respirators, a good seal must be obtained between the respirator and the wearer’s face.  Therefore, it is important to select the proper size and to be clean shaven. OSHA’s Respiratory Protection regulations require persons who wear respirators to be fit-tested prior to use by a qualified person to ensure that the respirator is properly sized to the user and a good face seal can be obtained. Good face seals are highly dependent on proper use and care of the respirator. Thus, OSHA’s regulation also contains a requirement to train workers in proper care and use. Consult OSHA’s web site for additional information on the required elements of a Respiratory Protection Program. Failure to properly wear and care for a respirator can present more of a hazard than the atmosphere of concern! 

In many situations, WCOs want to protect themselves from dusts, dander, dried animal feces, and similar particulates that are not present in high concentrations. For example, routine attic or crawl space inspections. In these cases, a filtering facepiece (Figure 14a) or half-face elastomeric respirator with N95 or N99 particulate cartridges usually is sufficient (Figure 14b). When the conditions are extremely dirty or there also is need to protect the eyes/face, then select a full-face elastomeric respirator (Figure 14c) with the appropriate particulate cartridge. 

Figure 14a, b, c. (Left) Disposable filtering facepiece. (Middle) Reusable half-mask respirator with particulate filters. (Right) Reusable full face respirator with particulate filters. Photo by Brenda Osthus.

Safety and the Law

Legal safety refers to situations where failure to implement safe practices can result in criminal or civil penalties either as a defendant or as a victim. Failure to operate your vehicle in a safe manner can result in legal penalties as well as physical injury.

OSHA Compliance

OSHA requires that employers ensure a safe working environment for workers by mandating that employers identify hazards, create written safety programs, train workers, monitor worker compliance, and maintaining training and incident records.

Information and assistance on OSHA regulations and compliance is available at OSHA.gov. We suggest beginning the processby reviewing OSHA’s Compliance/Outreach page at https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/index.html. The page clearly outlines the steps to become compliant as well as contains numerous links to templates, training, and specialists to speed the process. OSHA’s Small Business page is also very useful (https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/index.html).

It is important to recognize that OSHA sometimes delegates their authoritiy to individual States. Under the delegation of authority, a State may have additional or more stringent requirements than the federal OSHA program. You can determine if you State has been delegated authority on OSHA’s State Occupational Safety and Health Plans web page at https://www.osha.gov/dcsp/osp/index.html

Many private consultants are available to provide even more personalized assistance with OSHA compliance.

Safe Vehicle Use

Injuries from motor vehicle accidents are a significant risk for WCOs. In 2009, U.S. drivers were involved with 10.8 million motor vehicles accidents, which led to 35,900 deaths. While nothing can eliminate all the risks inherent in driving, several tactics can substantially reduce the likelihood of an accident.

First, purchase a service vehicle with a high safety rating with both the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration  and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Be sure the vehicle is rated to handle the weight and work you expect.

Second, ensure that the vehicle is maintained in proper working condition, with particular attention to tires, brakes, lights, windshield wipers, and suspension. Vehicles should be operated in accordance to traffic laws. Care should be taken to avoid speeding.

Third, be a defensive driver. Wear seat belts. Don’t jump lights or turn without signaling. Leave sufficient distance between your vehicle and nearby vehicles to allow sufficient time for reaction. Reduce speed as appropriate for driving conditions. Avoid distractions. Do not text or communicate with cell phones. Do not wear ear buds. Map out your route before getting on the road or use a global positioning device to help with directions.

Assault Prevention

Wildlife control operators frequently work alone in isolated or unfamiliar areas which make them vulnerable to criminal attacks. Never allow your attention to the task to prevent you from monitoring your situation. Always survey a job site throughout the day to look for potential threats and identify ways of escape. Awareness of your surroundings helps reduce the likelihood of assaults of opportunity. Avoid wearing ear phones so that you can hear indivdiuals as they approach.

It may be a cliché, but trust your “gut.” If a client or situation raises concerns, tell the client you need to make a phone call and ensure that someone knows where you are. Otherwise, consider ways to delay the job until you have additional help.

Avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Lock and secure unattended vehicles and equipment. Don’t wear expensive watches or flaunt expensive equipment.

Don’t get involved in altercations to protect equipment or money. They are not worth your life. Flee danger, whenever possible. Fight only when your well-being and safety require it. Contact police immediately following a criminal incident. Provide the authorities with as much detail as can be provided accurately.


Wildlife damage management work poses many safety risks to those involved. Awareness, planning, and deliberate action can eliminate or reduce many threats. As the industry continues to develop, WCOs must keep up with new threats and safety practices to maintain their well-being. Always keep in mind, your body is the most valuable tool you have. Be sure to take care of it.



Lisa Mensah, Safety Specialist, UNL EHS
Dan Olsen, Senior Specialist, UNL EHS
Dave Schmidt, All Out Wildlife Control
Credits for photos and illustrations

Provide key resources used to develop the text

On-line Resources

American Ladder Institute (http://www.americanladderinstitute.org)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov)

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.iihs.org)

Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (http://icwdm.org)

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.nhtsa.gov)

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (http://www.cdc.gov/NIOSH/)

National Weather Service (www.weather.gov)

National Wildlife Control Training Program (http://wildlifecontroltraining.com)

Occupation Safety and Health Administration (http://www.osha.gov)


Provide unique jargon, vocabulary words, or words for a working knowledge of this subject, followed by a definition of the term.

Administrative control. A method of control that reduces a hazard through one of the following strategies:  1) written operating procedures, work permits, and safe work practices; 2) exposure time limiations (used most commonly to control temperature extremes and ergonomic hazards); 3) monitoring the use of highly hazardous materials; 4) alarms, signs, and warnings; 5) buddy system; 6) training.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  A group engaged on a national level in the U.S. to develop soluntary consensus standards.

Confined space. A space that (1) is large enough and so configured that an employee can bodily enter and perform assigned work, and; (2) has limited or restricted menas of rentry or exit (for example, tanks, vessels, silos, storage bins, hoppers, vaults, and pits are spaces that may have limited means of entry), and; (3) is not designed for continuous employee occupancy.  See also “Permit-required confined space.”

Decibel. A unit of measure to express relative sound pressure on a logarithmic scale.

Engineering control. A method of control that eliminates or reduces a hazard through one of the following strategies:  1) elimination, e.g., designing the facility, equipment, or process to remove the hazard, or substituting processes, equipment, materials, or other factors to lessen the hazard; 2) enclosure of the hazard using enclosed cabs, enclosures for noisy equipment, or other means; 3) isolation of the hazard with interlocks, machine guards, blast shields, welding curtains, or other means; 4) removal or redirection of the hazard such as with local and exhaust ventilation.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The U.S. federal agency charged with enforcing environmental protection laws and regulations.

Hazard analysis (HA). Technique that focues on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. 

Job hazard analysis (JHA). See HA (Hazard analysis).

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  The U.S. federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent worker injury and illness.

Noise reduction rating (NRR). A numerical figure given to a device to signify how much it diminishes the sound level entering your ears.

United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  The main United States federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation.

Permit-required confined space. A confined space that has one or more of the following characteristics: (1) contains or has a potential to contain a hazardous atmosphere; (2) contains a material that has the potential for engulfing an entrant; (3) has an internal configuration such that an entrant could be trapped or asphyxiated by inwardly converging walls or by a floor which slopes downward and tapers to a smaller cross-section; or (4) contains any other recognized serious safety or health hazard.

Personal protective equipment (PPE). Clothing and apparatus worn to shield workers from injury.

Time Weighted Average (TWA). Average concentration of an airborne contaminant to which a person is exposed  in any 8-hour work shift of a 40-hour work week.

Ultraviolet radiation (UV). That portion of the electromagnetic spectrum between 40 – 400 nm.  The sun is the primary natural source of UV radiation.  UV-A and UV-B are the most harmful portions of the UV spectrum and can damage eyes and skin.

Wildife control operator (WCO).  Person engaged in activities activities associated with wildlife damage management.

Wildlife damage management (WDM).  Reduction of damage caused by or related to the presence or behavior of wildlife.


Wildlife can threaten the health and safety of you and others in the area. Use of damage prevention and control methods also may pose risks to humans, pets, livestock, other non-target animals, and the environment. Be aware of the risks and take steps to reduce or eliminate those risks.

Some methods mentioned in this document may not be legal, permitted, or appropriate in your area. Read and follow all pesticide label recommendations and local requirements. Check with personnel from your state wildlife agency and local officials to determine if methods are acceptable and allowed.

Mention of any products, trademarks, or brand names does not constitute endorsement, nor does omission constitute criticism.


S.E. Hygnstrom, R.M. Timm, P.D. Curtis,          D.L. Nolte, M.E. Tobin, and K.C. VerCauteren.


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