Veterinarians have fulfilling careers but with great responsibility comes with veterinary hazards, noted Leanne Phillpott of Pet Professional, a Registered Training Organization (RTO) with over 22 years of experience in delivering companion animal training and education to organizations, government agencies, and individuals.
Veterinarians are not only responsible for the health and safety of their staff and animals, but also for their own personal safety. Veterinary hazards can include psychological and physical risks. Physical hazards occur due to poor body posture and incorrect positioning when accomplishing a task. Injuries range from back pain to repetitive strain injuries (RSI).
Occupational Hazards In Minnesota Veterinary Practices In 2012 (2017)
78% or 765 out of 986 veterinary personnel completed the online survey, according to Heather N. Fowler, VMD, MPH, and colleagues of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC. Of these, 831 or 84% of respondents were eligible to participate and successfully complete the whole survey. The survey population consisted of veterinarians (47%), veterinary technicians (44%), and office staff (9%). 70% of veterinary personal said they had received preexposure rabies vaccinations, which was higher for veterinarians than veterinary technicians (93% vs 54%).
More veterinary technicians than veterinarians were tested for rabies neutralizing antibody titers within 2 years prior to the survey date (35% vs 29%). 13% of vaccinated veterinarians and 3% of vaccinated veterinary technicians. Further, 13% of vaccinated veterinarians and 3% of vaccinated veterinary technicians said they had not had their rabies virus antibody titer checked in > 10 years. 27% reported acquiring at least one zoonotic infection at some point in their career. The most common zoonotic infections are dermatophytosis (68%), bite wound infections (48%), salmonellosis (7%), and cryptosporidiosis (6%).
32% reported having an animal-related injury during their careers, resulting in hospitalization and missing at least half a day of work, or inability to work at their usual pace for at least five days. During their careers, 34% of veterinarians and veterinary technicians alike said they sustained a serious animal-related injury while 6% of veterinarians and 5% of veterinary technicians said they had a serious animal-related injury within the past 12 months. 39% of veterinarians self-medicated their illnesses or self-treated their injuries unlike 13% of veterinary technicians.
77% said they had sustained at least one needlestick or sharp injuries at some point in their careers while 41% said they had sustained at least one injury within the last 12 months. 88% of veterinarians, 91% of veterinary technicians, and 68% of office staff said they recapped the needles after use. However, veterinary technicians were significantly more likely than veterinarians to having been trained to recap needles at school or work (71% vs 52%). The respondents reported handling the following chemicals on the job: hormones (35%), cleaning agents (88%), sterilizing agents (72%), chemotherapeutic agents (including antineoplastic drugs) (11%), chloramphenicol (18%), and pesticides (27%). 89% were generally happy in their current job position while 34% said that workplace stress adversely affected their health or well-being in the past 12 months. In fact, 8% missed work due to work-related stress in the last 12 months.
Common Physical Hazards In Veterinary Practices
Cuts and infection are common hazards. To minimize your risk (and your staff) of getting cuts and infection, it is advisable to wear protective gloves. Cuts should be assessed, and first aid should be administered if necessary. Apply antiseptic to all cuts to reduce the risk of infection. Slips, trips, and falls can also occur so it is important to keep areas spic and span. Spills should be cleaned up immediately and establish procedures for reporting and cleaning up spills. Animal bites and scratches are part of being a veterinarian or a veterinary staff. If necessary, restrain all animals and ensure that all staff members know when the animals will bite. Protective clothing may be needed to safeguard everyone from bites and scratches. Another risk veterinary staff could be exposed to is zoonotic diseases.
Zoonotic diseases can be transmitted from animals to humans and prevalent in veterinary clinics. Gloves, face masks, and other PPEs are useful where appropriate. Frequent hand washing and other hygiene practices should be strictly enforced to minimize the risk of transmission. Veterinary teams can also consider getting occupational immunizations. Chemical and drugs are toxic to the body especially if it’s transferred via hand to mouth. As mentioned before, hand washing and the wearing of gloves help safeguard everyone’s health. When lifting a heavy or large animal, encourage your staff to ask for help and ensure that your team members are knowledgeable about proper lifting techniques. Advice your staff to use mechanical aids or staff lifts to avoid back injuries.
Common Psychological Hazards
Stress, anxiety, and depression commonly affect veterinarians. Psychological hazards result from dealing with difficult clients, emotional overload, and excessive workload. Veterinarians and staff should be familiar with the signs of stress and anxiety, which include muscle tension, fatigue, lack of concentration, and more. To effectively tackle workplace stress, it is recommended to foster a positive work culture and a more open line of communication among team members.
Encourage team members to open up about any issues or concerns that they might have in the clinic. Promote self-care such as eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, and engaging in exercise and/or relaxing activities. Further, it is advisable to hold group lunches or after-work happy hours to keep everyone’s spirits up.
Other Hazard Prevention Tips for Veterinarians and Staff
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a national public health institute in the US, advised veterinary practices to comply with Federal and State occupational hazard laws. Additionally, practitioners should abide by relevant Federal, State, and local laws such as veterinary waste management and proposal.
CDC also suggested establishing a medical surveillance system to help you and your team document and report workplace-related injuries and illnesses. Check that equipment is maintained and operated safely. To prevent veterinary hazards, you and your team can consider safety when designing and constructing animal handling, restraint, housing, and other facilities. Moreover, safety should be considered when designing animal restraint and anesthetic gas control systems and other processes.
Veterinarians and staff will likely have injuries from their patients or from using equipment at some point in their careers. Hence, practices should implement hazard prevention measures to reduce the risk of injury. Clinics should have after-work activities like a group lunch to relieve stress and bond with colleagues.