A Messy Situation

Bird infestations used to be frustrating simply because facility managers had to waste money cleaning up after a renewable source of mess. Today, managers have to deal with the threat of lawsuits as well as the day-to-day infestation problems. Besides leaving behind visually unappealing droppings, birds create dangerous environments.

Studies show that over 60 diseases can be transferred from birds to humans, with some resulting in fatalities. A build-up of bird droppings has the potential for slip-and-fall lawsuits, not to mention every facility manager’s nightmare–OSHA, the USDA, local health boards or other governmental organizations citing and fining the facility or shutting it down due to bird infestation or bird mess.

As difficult as it is to admit, OSHA might actually be doing managers a favor in a situation like this. Bad press and fines aside, if facilities are permitted to operate while contaminated by bird droppings, there is a chance that someone entering the facility may contract a serious disease and sue. Worse yet, the person affected might be one of your co-workers (or you). While most people have heard of avian flu or West Nile virus, histoplasmosis and Cryptococcus have maintained a low profile, despite showing up in the news as well. This low level of awareness keeps people from taking measures to protect themselves, leaving you responsible to protect them.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that:

“Areas known or suspected of being contaminated by H. capsulatum, such as bird roosts, attics, or even entire buildings that contain accumulations of bat or bird manure, should be posted with signs warning of the health risk. Each sign should provide the name and telephone number of a person to be contacted if there are questions about the area. In some situations, a fence may need to be built around a property or locks put on attic doors to prevent unsuspecting or unprotected individuals from entering.”

We tend to brush off bird droppings as merely an eyesore, but they are the main source of disease transmission between birds and humans. While most people do their best to avoid direct contact with fecal matter, bird droppings turn to dust as they dry, and people in the environment may inhale the fungus and bacteria they contain.

Consider The Facts

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC explain:

“[Histoplasmosis] hurts your lungs. Sometimes, it hurts other organs too, and it can be fatal if untreated. Anyone working at a job or close to places where the fungus is in the air can get this disease if you breathe in enough of it. … some jobs and hobbies that increase your risk [are] bridge inspector or painter, chimney cleaner, construction worker, demolition worker, farmer, gardener, heating and air-conditioning system installer or service person, microbiology laboratory worker, pest control worker, restorer of historic or abandoned buildings, roofer …”

This list of elevated-risk jobs is fairly extensive and by no means inclusive. Diseases transmitted through airborne particles can affect anyone. For example, The News-Herald in Southgate, Mich., published an article in September 2004 about a police officer who had been hospitalized after working in a township hall. Knowing that people “could be infected just by walking inside the facility,” warning signs were displayed explaining the building’s contamination due to bird and bat droppings. For the officer, however, the warning came too late. He “had to have a portion of his lung removed. Tests were positive for histoplasmosis.”

If only one person contracts a disease and sues because of birds in a facility, a lawsuit can be truly substantial. In Palm Beach, Fla., a teacher won $1.2 million in a settlement when he contracted Cryptococcus while working at a school. The district was advised to settle because it feared a judgment could exceed $3.7 million (South Florida Sentinel, March, 2001). The article reported that the virus may live in a person for years then suddenly become symptomatic when the individual’s immune system hits a low point.

Additional Risks

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