The past decade has seen only marginal improvement in the use of evidence-based methods to reduce the risk of laboratory animal allergy (LAA) among workers exposed to laboratory animals, according to an updated national survey in the June Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Gregg M. Stave, MD, JD, MPH, of Duke Occupational & Environmental Medicine, Durham, N.C., sent a questionnaire regarding occupational LAA prevention practices to 141 laboratory facilities, which employed more than 58,000 laboratory animal workers. The study was designed to follow up on a 2012 survey, which reported "wide variation in practices with no consistent approach" to occupational LAA prevention.
The new results "were strikingly similar to those from the earlier survey with only small differences across most categories," Dr. Stave and coauthors write. For example, the use of certain types of engineering controls to reduce exposure to animal allergens—such as separately ventilated cages and biological safety cabinets—increased by about 10%. There was a similar increase in the use of administrative controls, such as training workers on LAA.
However, the survey found "no notable changes" in the mandatory use of personal protective equipment (PPE). There was an increase in the use of surgical masks, which do not provide protection from allergens; while just 13% of laboratories used N95 respirators. The COVID-19 pandemic had only a small, time-limited effect on PPE use.
The use of mandatory LAA medical surveillance increased from 58% to 71%. However, surveillance findings were reviewed mainly on an individual basis. As in the 2012 survey, only one-fourth of laboratories knew the incidence and prevalence of LAA among workers. There were no significant changes in work restriction policies for workers with LAA.
The follow-up survey shows that policies and procedures to reduce LAA risk continue to vary widely. "LAA is preventable through a comprehensive program that reduces or eliminates animal allergen exposures," Dr. Stave and coauthors conclude. "Universal use of evidence-based practices and improved medical surveillance would provide greater worker protection from LAA."
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