Many schools keep animals on the premises, either as pets or as part of a teaching program. Undertaking to provide all of an animal’s needs in the school environment is a major commitment and there are some particular hazards that apply to these situations. This guideline has been developed to highlight the potential safety issues schools may face when keeping animals on site.
What is farming?
The main activities of school farms are:
- Cattle for dairy
- Chickens for eggs
- Sheep for wool
- Fruit growing
- Vegetable crops
- Vineyards specialising in grapes for wine
What is the risk?
To make your school safer for both people and animals you need to identify the potential dangers that keeping animals in schools may present.
Lifting heavy or moving awkward shaped objects such as pet cages, fish tanks, and working with unpredictable animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs can cause a range of manual handling injuries.
Slips Trips and Falls
Slips trips and falls could be caused by wet and slippery indoor and outdoor surfaces, poor housekeeping around animal housing or uneven ground conditions in school farms. Where electrical equipment is required to support animals (incubators, pumps for fish tanks, heat lamps, etc.) there is also a potential for the power cords to be a trip hazard.
Those involved in the care and use of animals should make themselves aware of the potential disease hazards and other associated occupational health and safety issues. Apart from injuries which may occur due to handling animals, there are a variety of infectious diseases (zoonotic disease) that are transmissible from animals to humans.
Keeping animals in a school requires some thought and preparation. Animals require care on a daily basis and as such there is a likelihood that staff will be required to tend to the animals out of normal hours.
Handling and safe storage of chemicals
Keeping animals in the school environment may introduce chemical products that you may not normally find in schools. These could include animal shampoos, lice treatments, products for maintaining and sanitising agricultural equipment or over-the-counter veterinary chemicals. All of these products need to be identified, stored correctly, and listed on the schools chemical register.
Who is at risk?
There are a number of roles in schools that may be at risk in relation to having animals in a school environment. These may include:
- Maintenance / ground staff
- Visitors i.e. parents
Other issues to consider
Schools using animals for scientific purposes are required to maintain records of the care and use of the animals.
There are many tools and strategies available to schools to repel unwanted pests from animal enclosures and the animals themselves. Not all pests require control and schools should consider their individual circumstances before implementing pest control actions as you may be introducing new hazards in to the school environment.
When planning to use animals, teachers must consider the ethical and welfare issues:
Use no more than the minimum number of animals however, this should not be at the expense of individual animals
Activities must minimise handling, discomfort, distress or pain in animals.