Floods can cause large numbers of livestock deaths. Handling and disposing of animal carcasses can expose workers to the risk of infection. Safe work practices including hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE) can help protect workers and others from infection when disposing of animal carcasses.
The following information provides guidance on managing infection risks from handling and disposing of animal carcasses at workplaces after floods. Read the safety considerations when trenching to bury carcasses fact sheet (PDF, 0.2 MB)
What are the infection risks?
Handling animal carcasses and contact with flood water and mud when disposing of carcasses may expose workers to skin infections, gastrointestinal illness and mosquito-borne illness. Workers may also be exposed to:
- Q fever - a disease that is spread from contact with animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, some native wildlife such as kangaroos and bandicoots and some companion animals.
- Leptospirosis - a disease that is spread from contact with animals such as rodents, cattle and pigs. The urine of infected animals can contaminate flood water.
- Melioidosis - a disease that is spread from contact with soil, water and vegetation especially following heavy rain. People with medical conditions that weaken their immune system are especially at risk.
Prevention and control measures
Control measures may vary according to the nature of the work and the level of risk. The following are examples of ways to protect workers and others at workplaces from exposure to infection risks when disposing of animal carcasses.
Level 1 control measures
- Handle carcasses as little as possible and try to avoid direct contact with carcasses and body fluids.
- Where possible, use machinery such as an excavator or backhoe to handle carcasses. Machinery that is fitted with an enclosed and ventilated cabin and has a high efficiency air filtering system (e.g. HEPA filter) will reduce the operator's exposure to potentially infectious dust and aerosols.
Level 2 control measures
- Where possible, workers who handle and dispose of carcasses should have documented Q fever immunity.
- Avoid the use of high pressure washers to clean mud and dirt off machinery and equipment to prevent breathing in potentially infectious dust and aerosols.
- Where possible, locate rest and eating areas away from areas that may be contaminated.
Level 3 control measures
- Make sure that clean, fresh water and hand washing facilities are available for workers to clean up.
- Instruct workers to always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and clean water:
- before eating, drinking and smoking
- after handling carcasses and contaminated machinery and equipment
- after accidental contamination with body fluids, flood water and mud should this occur
- after removing PPE
- at the end of the work shift.
- Provide first aid facilities and make sure that these are appropriately stocked for the number of people who may require first aid treatment.
- Instruct workers to check their skin for cuts and abrasions before starting work and cover any non-intact skin with a water-resistant dressing. If a worker sustains a wound when disposing of a carcass, make sure it is thoroughly cleaned and a water-resistant dressing applied.
- Provide workers with information, instruction, training and supervision on safe carcass disposal including safe work methods, personal hygiene practices, how to select and use PPE and when to report signs of illness.
- Provide and wear sufficient PPE to protect exposed skin and the face from contact with carcasses, body fluids, flood water and mud. Depending on the level of contact this may include:
- long trousers
- long sleeved shirt
- safety eyewear (e.g. safety glasses, safety goggles or face shield)
- enclosed footwear (e.g. leather or rubber boots).
- A properly fitted particulate respirator (e.g. disposable P2 respirator) may be used as an interim or short-term control measure for workers who do not have documented immunity to Q fever. A particulate respirator should also be worn if workers are at risk of breathing in aerosols of flood water and mud, for example when cleaning dirt off machinery and equipment.
- Decomposing carcasses can create noxious odours. A respirator with an active charcoal or organic vapour filter may provide some relief.
- Apply insect repellent containing DEET (diethyltoluamide) or picaridin to repel biting insects.
- Workers with medical conditions that make them susceptible to infection should take special care and avoid contact with flood water and mud.
- Any worker who sustains a tetanus-prone wound (e.g. a deep penetrating wound, a wound containing foreign bodies such as wood splinters or a superficial wound obviously contaminated with soil or manure), develops a skin infection or becomes sick after handling animal carcasses should see their doctor and tell the doctor about their work.
Any infection that is caused by carrying out work is a notifiable incident.
- For human health issues visit www.health.qld.gov.au or call 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84). Seek advice from a general practitioner or local hospital emergency department if you have concerns about your health.
- For animal health issues, visit www.biosecurity.qld.gov.au or call 13 25 23.
- To find a Q fever vaccine provider or to register immune workers, contact the Q Fever Register on 1300 QFEVER (1300 733 837) or visit www.qfever.org.