Not all clinic injuries can be blamed on animals, though. A 2003 study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine states that more than 30 percent of veterinarians work with improper postures, and 67 percent say they need improvements
in their work environments with more focus on ergonomics. Industry statistics show that the cost to make these improvements
may be well worth the investment.
Back and shoulder strains made up 8 percent of all claims and $1.5 million of the total workers' compensation tab, according
to Hub International. Those injuries frequently were caused by improper lifting and handling techniques, lack of lifting assistance
and awkward postures. Slips and falls — mostly on wet areas at entrances, exits and near bathing and grooming areas — made
up another 5 percent of all claims.
In 2006, AVMA's Group Health and Life Insurance Trust (GHLIT) paid out $4 million for back disorders, and a 2007 PLIT study
revealed that average claims for injuries relating to improper lifting averaged $22,000.
Overall health of veterinarians due to stress and long work hours also is a factor in the physical well-being of clinic workers.
A study of veterinarians working in Finland in 2000, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in June 2003, indicates that serious work exhaustion was reported most frequently by young female and older male veterinarians.
The veterinarians surveyed spent more than 100 hours on call, and more than 60 percent characterized their overall health
as good or fairly good, according to the study.
Too many hours worked play a large role in clinic injuries, too. Veterinary professionals working more than 60 hours per week
reported a higher number of injuries, according to a 2002 study in Epidemiology. Another study revealed that practitioners drove more than 300 miles per week, and only 56 percent followed the speed limit.
Fifteen percent didn't wear seatbelts.
Tools of the trade
Some tools aimed at making the veterinary profession safer aren't used as often as they should be, while others that put veterinarians
at risk usually aren't used properly, several studies indicate.
Punctures or lacerations, either from bites, scratches or needle-sticks, accounted for 84 percent of injuries in the veterinary
clinic, according to Hub International. Many of those injuries and their associated costs could be reduced by following recommendations
by loss-control experts on annual site visits for veterinary clinics. They include writing hazardous-material-handling plans
and formal employee training programs, carrying out formal investigations following any employee injuries or "near misses"
and the availability of protective gear for workers, suggests data from Hub International.
And the need for prevention is great, as needlesticks and exposure to hazardous substances is high in the veterinary profession.
Sixty-four percent of female veterinarians reported one or more needlesticks during their career, with half of those occurring
during vaccine administration, reports an August 2008 study by J. Scott Weese and Douglas C. Jack in the Canadian Veterinary Journal. Nearly 60 percent of needlesticks exposed the veterinarian to animal blood, 52 percent to antimicrobials, 52 percent to
vaccines and 17 percent to immobilizing agents, according to the study. A paper published in the Australian Veterinarian Journal indicates that 30 percent of veterinarians will contract an animal disease during their career. Two-thirds of needlesticks
included the injection of a substance, which was antimicrobials in 13 percent of the cases, euthanasia agents in 11 percent
of cases, followed by vaccines in 9 percent and anesthetics in 8 percent, according to the Canadian Veterinary Journal study.
Veterinarians are the most frequent victims of needlesticks, followed by technicians, assistants and volunteers. But the frequency
among different types of veterinarians varies. Large-animal veterinarians had the lowest incidence of needlesticks (5.8/100
person-years), followed by mixed-animal (9.7/100 person-years) and small-animal (9.8/100 person-years) veterinarians. Zoo
veterinarians also reported a high incidence, with 87 percent reporting one or more during their career, and 6.5 percent requiring
medical treatment as a result. Part of the additional risk among zoo veterinarians may come from the fact that 86 percent
of zoo veterinarians admitted to recapping needles, a "high-risk handling procedure," more than half the time. An Italian
study found that 74 percent of all needlestick injuries in veterinary practices could be attributed to incorrect handling
procedures, Weese says.
To learn about workplace injury prevention, visit PLIT at
http://avmaplit.com/, AAHA at
http://avma.org/ or the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration at osha.gov/.