Friday, November 6, 2015

How dangerous is it to be a vet?

There are risks in every workplace- even when you are working with adorable kittens.

According to a recent article published this week, veterinarians work in the fourth most dangerous profession. This article caused some vigorous debate in my workplace, so I want to explore it a bit further.

But first, one burning question to get out of the way. What is the world’s MOST dangerous profession?

Dentistry. That includes not just dentists but nurses, hygienists, prosthodontists etc.

Second burning question: Who is next?

Flight attendants, anaesthesiologists, then BOOM!: vets and vet nurses.

Which leads to the obvious question: hang on, what about working in the bomb squad? What about being a professional boxer? A spy? Mountaineers? Wildlife camerapersons? Undercover police officers? Politicians in politically unstable countries? I guess it makes sense not to count illegal professions, since it’s unlikely anyone has compiled Work Health and Safety Data on these, but you would think that some illegal jobs (and I’m not specifying but watch a few action movies for some ideas) would be MUCH more dangerous than being a dentist.

It’s all in the methodology. The aim was to rank “the most unhealthy jobs in America”. Data was collected from a US Dept. of Labor Database (the Occupational Information Network, or O*NET). It measures 6 health risks in 974 occupations. These health risks are very specific: exposure to contaminants, exposure to disease and infection, exposure to hazardous conditions, exposure to radiation, risk of minor burns, cuts, bites and stings, and time spent sitting (because sitting is the new smoking and multiple studies suggest this shortens our lifespans).

Clearly, this list doesn’t cover everything. For example the risk of major trauma. I’m thinking about stunt people, for example. Or maybe those who are exposed to cow and horse kicks in their jobs (not just vets). The category “exposure to hazardous conditions” is enormously broad and could range from physically hazardous to psychologically hazardous.

The study was performed by – so we’re not talking Nature here. I don’t disagree that being a veterinarian is dangerous. I really don’t know if being a vet is more or less dangerous than being a dentist (I guess that can vary depending on the patient and the circumstances in which you’re treating them. I don’t know any dentist who has sustained a kick to the knee that has necessitated a reconstruction, but it is not beyond the realms). 

Overall I think it’s a helpful article in making us reflect on work health and safety, especially minor incidents and factors too easily overlooked, such as time spent sitting (which ironically I am doing as I type this post). There are plenty of hazards in our workplace, and they can impact our lives significantly if don't manage risks.

As an aside, O*NET also provides a nifty summary of the duties carried out by members of any occupation you search. For veterinarians, these are summarised here. It sounds a bit less exciting on paper than this.

You can read the full list of dangerous jobs here.