Friday, September 4, 2015

Workplace injuries in the veterinary profession

peas get well soon
I bought this balloon for a colleague who spent one week in hospital and had two surgeries due to a bite from a guard dog. The owners said "he doesn't bite" and the dog, without warning, bit through her finger. She had to take several months off work.
Have you ever had an animal related injury? Working with animals carries a degree of risk. Animal-related injuries can vary from the mild (those tiny pinprick holes that kittens unwittingly cover you with as they climb you like a tree) to severe (a kick from a horse can be fatal).

The British Veterinary Association has just released findings from its ‘Voice of the Veterinary Profession’ survey which – among other things – looked at workplace injuries in vets in the last twelve months. There were 720 UK veterinarians surveyed.

Companion animal and mixed practitioners were the most likely to report suffering a work related injury (64.2 per cent of respondents in each category), followed by equine vets (60.7 per cent) and production animal practitioners (53.2 per cent).

cat bite
Cat scratchs and bites on the forearm and hand of a vet nurse. Cat bites should never be underestimated - they can become badly infected.
The most common injuries were scratches (83.2 per cent of respondents), followed by bites (66.8 per cent), although when broken down by profession equine vets most commonly experienced kicks. The nature of injury reflects the defence mechanisms of the species one works with the most.

A few comments.
  • The survey relates to vets, but veterinary nurses are even more likely to be injured given the degree to which they handle animals. It would be interesting to look at a comparison of nurse vs veterinary injuries.
  • Workplace injuries are unreported. Often people are embarrassed, or feel like “it’s not that bad” or there is a culture of “suck it up”. Or just confusion about whether something is significant enough to report. I think there is scope for further training of veterinarians and nurses in practice regarding identification and reporting of injuries. This is necessarily specific to the state and region in which one is working.
  • There’s been some excellent work about the need for increased uptake of personal protective equipment in the veterinary profession in Australia for infection control but also to reduce other injuries. Read more here. There's currently a very hot debate about veterinarians refusing to treat or hospitalise horses that have not been vaccinated against Hendra virus. I fall firmly on the side of work health and safety for veterinarians. Given the mortality rate associated with Hendra virus infection, there is no justification for unnecessary exposure during the course of one's day to day work.
  • There has been an increased awareness and emphasis on fear-freehandling and behaviour management of companion animals, which can only improve the safety of veterinary staff and the wellbeing of animals. At the heart of this is the reminder that while a vet clinic is the context of our working day, with our requisite tasks to get through, it’s a novel and anxiety-inducing environment for our patients.


Anon (2015) Injuries common among vets. Veterinary Record September 5, 2015 doi:10.1136/vr.h4660