Fire and Fire Extinguishers

Fire and Fire Extinguishers

Chemicals used in animal care workplaces

There is a wide range of chemicals that are used in the animal industry; some are more toxic than others and require great care when handling and using them.

Chemicals can enter the body through:

  • inhalation
  • absorption—through the skin and mucous membranes
  • ingestion.

Having a sound knowledge of the correct use and handling techniques is essential to prevent or reduce the risk of injury from chemical contamination.

Commonly used chemicals

Some of the most commonly used chemicals throughout the animal industry include:

  • antiseptics
  • disinfectants
  • detergents
  • drugs
  • shampoos and rinses.

As some of these chemicals are used on a daily basis, it is easy to forget that they should be handled with care.Long-term exposure without taking precautions can result in debilitating health problems.

The photo below shows, for example, a dairy farm being washed out and disinfected. This needs to be done twice daily which creates a situation where staff are exposed to constant contact with chemicals. This can cause health problems if not done with care.

picture of a dairy farmer

Cleaning chemicals

The most commonly used chemicals are cleaning products. There are a range of products on the market that are suitable for cleaning and it is important to have an understanding of when they need to be applied and the hazards of use.


These are used to remove or destroy pathogenic organisms, except bacterial spores. Environmental disinfectants are designed for use on inanimate objects only. Many require that the user wear protective clothing and they should never be used on the skin.


These can be used on skin and are designed to destroy or inhibit the growth of micro-organisms.

Tissue toxicity

This refers to the degree of damage which the chemical causes to healthy tissue at its correct concentration for use. In the case of antiseptics, it is important that tissue toxicity is negligible whereas in the case of disinfectants, this feature is less important.

Effectiveness in the presence of foreign material

This refers to how well the activity of the chemical is maintained if there is dirt, blood, pus etc. This feature is important in both antiseptics and disinfectants. However, it is most important that disinfectants which are to be used on surfaces such as concrete should be highly effective in the presence of foreign materials.

Spectrum of activity

This refers to the range of micro-organisms which the chemical is effective in destroying. The micro-organisms with which we are mostly concerned are bacteria, viruses and fungi. In addition, some chemicals are active against spores.

Residual effect

This refers to a lasting or ongoing effect after application. This feature is particularly useful in that it ensures continued activity against micro-organisms.

Selecting disinfectants and antiseptics

You should read any product labels and particularly note what it should be used for and any precautions. When you are selecting a product, consider the:

  • safety of staff and animals—the product should be non-irritant, non-toxic and non-corrosive
  • intended use of the product and its suitability for the environment or use that you require it for—eg for cleaning kennels or runs equipment
  • product activity against specific micro-organisms
  • contact time required—in other words, the period that it takes for the chemical to kill the target organism
  • local conditions that you will use it with—eghard water
  • stability of product when in storage
  • odours and smell—must be odourless or have a pleasant smell
  • ease of use—dispensability in water if diluted
  • economy of use—cost per made up litre of ready to use solution.

Note: Some products are effective for kennels but may stain bedding. Some animal species are sensitive to some types of disinfectant—for example, cats are sensitive to phenol. Chlorine products irritate the nasal passages and eyes of both animals and humans.

Categories of chemicals

The most common categories of chemicals are:

  • toxic
  • corrosive
  • irritants
  • sensitisers
  • explosives/flammables.

Each category of chemical has its own requirements for safe handling and application.


Pesticides, herbicides, lead and medications contain toxins.

Toxins are chemicals that if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin will result in an adverse reaction. This reaction can range from slight irritation through to serious metabolic dysfunction.

The photo below shows sheep being sprayed for parasites. This is an effective way to prevent contamination, but care must be taken that the chemicals are not inhaled. Serious reactions requiring immediate medical treatment can result. The animal attendant should be wearing correct PPE—it is a legal requirement to use correct protective clothing and masks when using insecticides.


Corrosives are solids or liquids that severely damage living tissue. The degree of damage may extend from a mild irritation through to total loss of deep tissue. Examples of corrosives include hydrochloric acid, sodium hydroxide and battery acid.


Irritants are chemicals that irritate the mucous membranes or the skin surface causing a rash, redness and discomfort. Examples of irritants includebleach, parvocide, disinfectants and antiseptics.


After a long exposure to sensitisers, you can eventually become unusually sensitive to that chemical—and other related chemicals. Examples of sensitisers include shampoo, insecticidal rinses, bleach, soap, disinfectants and antiseptics.

Problems caused by sensitisers include dermatitis, respiratory effects, nausea and vomiting.


These chemicals cover any product that has the potential to ignite under any circumstances. Examples of explosives and flammables includepetrol, gas and ether.

Safe use of chemicals

When using any chemicals, whatever type, care should be taken to handle them in a correct manner, this includes:

  • storing them in the original container with the lids fully secured
  • keeping animals and children away from the chemicals
  • wearing protective clothing when recommended and taking care to avoid contact with the skin
  • washing hands thoroughly after use, particularly before eating and drinking
  • using the correct amountwhen diluting
  • reading the instructions carefully and following directions
  • reading any Material Safety Data Sheets—these can be obtained from manufacturers and list safety precautions, as well as what to do in an emergency.

Read the relevant MSDS

The MSDS can be obtained from the manufacturers.The recommended dilution rate will be given on the MSDS and product label. There is usually more than one rate, depending on where the chemical will be used and the type of organisms to be killed or inactivated.

Each product will also have a manufacturers data sheet which lists the uses and suitability for the job required. Information will also include safety precautions and what to do in an emergency.


© NSW DET 2007