Top five hazards veterinary staffs face

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Jul 01, 2007

Avian flu may be a risk to some veterinarians, but it's not among the most common daily hazards that all DVMs and their employees face.

Phillip J. Seibert Jr., CVT, owner-operator of Safety Vet, a consulting firm in Calhoun, Tenn., that since 1992 has advised practices nationwide on safety and regulatory-compliance issues, provided DVM Newsmagazine with a list of what he considers the top 5 workplace hazards for veterinarians and their staffs.

He says the following list isn't scientific, but is based on anecdotal evidence he's collected during office visits around the country:

Animal-inflicted injuries. These are usually bites and scratches from small animals, or kicks and crushing injuries from large animals.

Exposure to hazardous chemicals, including drugs and medications. The most common route of transmission? Not splashing or spilling, but hand-to-mouth transfer during eating or smoking, because of failure to wash hands or follow other personal-hygiene measures.

Back injuries from lifting. Lifting what? Not inanimate objects like heavy bags of pet food that don't move, but lifting live animals that may twist and squirm, negating efforts at proper lifting techniques.

Exposure to radiation or waste anesthetic gases. Patients recovering from surgeries while under isoflurane or sevoflurane, for example, give off some of these gases while breathing. Larger animals give off larger amounts. The short-term effect on DVMs and staff members may include headaches, dizziness and difficulty in concentrating; long-term effects include reproductive problems, fetal abnormalities and damage to internal organs, especially the liver.

Injuries from violence. "They're more common than many vets realize," Seibert says. "Because practices have drugs and money on hand, robberies sometimes occur. But, more often, it's personal assaults by friends and relatives of staff members, like angry boyfriends or estranged spouses."

Beyond these top five, Seibert cites a number of zoonotic diseases that tend to be regionalized, such as plague in mountainous regions of the Southwest, rabies in the East and even Lyme Disease, which can be a threat to DVMs who work outdoors where ticks are present. In addition, equine practitioners face a salmonella risk from foals. And because of a trend in recent years to perform less routine deworming of pets, some vets can be at risk from visceral and cutaneous larval migrans from exposure to roundworms and hookworms.

For more details on Seibert's observations on safety risks to veterinary practices, see next month's issue of DVM Newsmagazine.