Safety guidelines for those receiving or handling mail at the University

In the past, questions and concerns have been raised about how mailrooms and offices should handle mail that may
contain a written threat of chemical or biological material or mail that may contain some form of powder. Here are some common sense steps to take in the

First of all, be aware that the risk of contracting any disease from an envelope or package is extremely low.

In general, you may wish to do the following:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling mail.
  • Do not eat around mail.
  • If you have open cuts on your hands, wearing disposable gloves may be
  • Surgical masks and/or eye protection are not necessary or recommended.

If mail is received that does contain powder:

  • Do not shake or empty the envelope.
  • Isolate the specific area of the workplace (where the mail was received)
    so that no one risks coming into contact with the envelope or disturbs the
  • Call University Safety at ext. 4444 or the Ottawa Police at 9-911, tell
    them what you have received and what you have done with it; indicate
    whether the envelope contains any visible powder or if the powder was
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for one minute.
  • Do not allow anyone who may have touched the envelope to leave the office.
  • When emergency workers arrive, they will provide instructions on what to
    do next.

Characteristics of suspicious mail:

  • no return address
  • handwritten or poorly typed address
  • incorrect titles or a title but no name
  • excessive postage
  • misspelled words
  • postmark shows a city or province/state that does not match the return
  • strange odour
  • oily stains, discoloration on wrapper
  • excessive tape, string or excessive wrapping

It’s important to remember:

  • Do not walk around with the letter and shake it.
  • Do not open the envelope.
  • Do not discard the letter.
  • Do not smell or taste the powder.
  • Do not panic.

For more detailed information, you can check out these websites:
City of Ottawa:
Health Canada:

Department of University Safety