Work with bird or bat droppings can expose workers to some serious, infectious diseases.
Bird and bat droppings
The risk from disturbing small amounts of fresh droppings is very low but grows higher from disturbing large accumulations of concentrated, dried droppings.
Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by a fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum. It is found in soil contaminated with bird (especially pigeon) or bat droppings. People can be infected by inhaling the fungal spores. Young children, the elderly and people who have a medical condition or are undergoing medical treatment that lowers immunity are most at risk.
Cryptococcosis is an infection caused by a fungus called Cryptococcosis neoformans. It is found in the environment, particularly in soil that is contaminated with bird (especially pigeon) droppings. People can be infected by inhaling the fungal spores. Infection is rare in people who are otherwise healthy but those with low immunity are at increased risk. Cryptococcosis commonly causes meningitis (an infection of the brain) but infection can occur in other parts of the body.
Psittacosis is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia [or Chlamydophilia] psittaci. It is shed in the droppings and respiratory secretions of infected birds, including parrots, pigeons and poultry. People can be infected by inhaling the bacteria. Psittacosis generally causes a mild to moderate respiratory illness with pneumonia, but more severe illness can occur. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people who have a medical condition or are undergoing medical treatment that lowers immunity are most at risk.
Bird and bat droppings can contain germs that cause gastrointestinal illness with symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. People can be infected if they inadvertently swallow the germs, usually via contaminated hands.
Who is at risk?
Workers who disturb accumulations of dried bird or bat droppings are at risk. For example:
- workers who clean, renovate or demolish buildings, roofs, bridges and other structures where birds or bats roost
- spelunkers (cave explorers) and others who work in caves or other enclosed spaces harbouring birds or bats
- pest control and animal removal specialists
- facilities maintenance workers
- heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems workers
- workers who handle poultry manure
- workers who work with soil or clear foliage in areas harbouring birds or bats.
Eliminating exposure is the most effective way to protect workers, however this may not always be possible. Where the risk cannot be eliminated, it must be minimised.
Prevent droppings from accumulating
- Deter birds by sealing entry points, modifying roosting or nesting sites and removing food sources. Seek advice from an animal removal or pest control specialist if required.
- Regularly inspect for droppings and clean up promptly.
Cleaning large accumulations of bird and bat droppings
- Where possible, schedule cleaning activities for when the site is not being used and restrict access. Take special care if vulnerable people such as patients, elderly residents or young children could be in the affected area.
- Manage exposure to dust and aerosols from disturbing droppings. For example
- use dust barriers and ventilation controls (e.g. industrial vacuum (PDF, 0.62 MB), HEPA filtration unit)
- seal doors, windows and air vents
- avoid cleaning methods that disperse dust and aerosols (e.g. dry sweeping, high-pressure washer, household vacuum and compressed air)
- wet the droppings by applying a light mist of plain or soapy water and keep wetting the material during its removal to prevent it from drying out.
- Once the droppings are removed, clean the area thoroughly using water and detergent and then apply a disinfectant. Disinfectants require a minimum contact time to be effective. They may not work properly in the presence of organic matter such as droppings, so it is important to clean surfaces before applying disinfectant. Alternatively, use a product that is both a detergent and a disinfectant.
- Place waste in a container that can be securely sealed during storage, transport and disposal.
- Clean contaminated equipment and tools after use.
- Do not reuse contaminated building materials and debris.
- It is unnecessary to test surfaces before or after cleaning because the types of germs found in droppings are widespread in the environment.
- Consider using a professional cleaning service that specializes in removing this type of waste.
Personal hygiene practices
Workers should adopt personal hygiene practices.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating, drinking and smoking, after contact with droppings and after removing personal protective equipment (PPE).
- If using a waterless hand sanitiser make sure it contains an alcohol content of at least 60 per cent, use only on visibly clean hands and wash your hands with soap and water at the first opportunity.
- Check your skin before starting work and cover any cuts and other broken skin with a clean, dry dressing. If you sustain a wound at work, clean and cover it straight away.
- Avoid touching your face and do not eat, drink or smoke when working with droppings.
- Wash or shower after finishing work.
Workers must be provided with washing facilities (PDF, 0.7 MB). This should include clean running water, soap and paper towel or an air hand dryer. Field workers should be provided with portable hand washing facilities. Use handwashing signage to remind workers to wash their hands.
Workers must also be provided with first aid facilities, clean eating facilities and drinking water.
Information, training, instruction and supervision
Provide workers with information about:
- health risks from work with bird and bat droppings
- safe work procedures
- selection and use of PPE
- hand washing practices.
Personal protective equipment
Workers should wear a properly fitted (PDF, 0.86 MB) particulate respirator when disturbing dried bird or bat droppings to prevent inhaling dust and aerosols. For major clean-up work, additional PPE including gloves, protective clothing, safety eyewear and boot covers should be worn. Take care to avoid heat stress when wearing multiple items of PPE, especially when working in hot and humid conditions.
Contact Workplace Health and Safety Queensland on 1300 362 128 for information on managing infectious diseases at work. If a person acquires an infectious disease at work, this must be notified to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
Contact Queensland Health on 13HEALTH (13 43 25 84) for information on infectious diseases and human health. Seek advice from your general practitioner or local public health unit if you have concerns about possible exposure to infectious diseases from contact with bird or bat droppings.