Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
Workplace safety is a general term used to address workplace hazards. Veterinary professionals face many risks while on the job, some of which do not have specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. These risks fall under the general duty clause, which states that every workplace is responsible for worker safety regardless of whether an OSHA standard exists.
Known hazards in a veterinary practice should be addressed immediately. For problems that cannot be corrected or eliminated, the development and implementation of specific safety plans are necessary.
There is no way your hazardous communication program and Injury Illness Prevention Plan (I2P2) can address every hazard in detail. Safety plans specific to your practice are necessary to protect your employees. The first step in getting started with your safety plan manual is to establish a safety committee.
A Team Approach
The safety committee should comprise members from each hospital department and be led by a safety coordinator. Though a single person takes the lead, a committee is more effective when multiple people are involved. Maintaining OSHA compliance is too much of a responsibility for the designated safety officer alone.
Once you have formed the committee, the next step is for each team member to examine the practice from the inside out and perform a facilitywide hazard assessment. The safety committee will be establishing and updating individual safety plans.
The Search Begins
Inspections are required annually, when OSHA regulations change, or after an incident or quarterly trend analysis. Part of the inspection is the hazard assessment, which should focus on:
- Known or potential hazards in each work area of the hospital.
- The steps necessary to reduce or avoid injuries or illnesses.
The safety plans necessary to address these can be broken into two categories. The second is more specific to the veterinary industry.
1. All Employees
- Hazard communication plan
- Fire safety plan
- Electrical safety plan
- Lockout and tag-out safety plan
- Noise safety plan
- Lifting safety plan
- Ergonomics safety plan
- Extreme temperatures safety plan
- Personal safety and workplace violence plan
- Emergency action plan
- Infection control plan
- Biomedical waste safety plan
- Pregnancy-fertility safety plan
2. Medical Employees
- Animal-handling safety plan
- Ethylene oxide safety plan
- Formaldehyde safety plan
- Hazardous drugs safety plan (chemotherapy)
- Anesthetic gases safety plan
- Radiation safety plan
- Laser safety plan
A veterinary practice needs a safety plan for each hazard listed under “Medical Employees” only if the risk is present. If you don’t do chemotherapy or use ethylene oxide, then a safety plan for those is not necessary.
I suggest starting with the most important safety plans first and working through the list. When building your safety plans, establish a standardized format that addresses how to mitigate each risk. Each plan should stand on its own, which means some redundancy in the employer and employee responsibility sections.
Here are few things to keep in mind when developing a safety plan:
- The purpose: To protect employees exposed to a specific hazard.
- Identification: What is the hazard and what are the effects of or risks of exposure?
- Employer responsibility: The practice is responsible for communicating the hazard, developing standards and protocols to minimize exposure, training employees, and providing and maintaining all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Employee responsibility: Workers must be present and engaged during training, must comply with safety standards, and use PPE. They also are responsible for reporting hazardous situations and injuries to management or the safety coordinator.
- Awareness and prevention: Utilize the Hierarchy of Controls to minimize exposure to the hazard. (See below.)
In veterinary medicine, most of the hazards we are exposed to cannot be eliminated. However, we can change the products we use and where and how we use them. Where elimination is not possible, look to substitution. When no substitute exists, we look at engineering controls, meaning changes designed to isolate employees from the hazard. When engineering options are not feasible, we look to administrative controls, where we change the way we do things to minimize the risk. If no changes can be made, we then look to PPE to protect employees.
The farther down the Hierarchy of Controls you go, the less effective the controls. In many cases, the only option might be PPE.
Using the risk of animal bites and scratches as an example, the process might look something like this:
- Elimination is not possible.
- Substitution might include tactics where animals who display aggressive behavior are sedated or volatile patients are referred to a specialist better able to handle them. Some practices might choose not to see some of the more dangerous species or breeds.
- Engineering controls might mean limiting animal handling to technicians and veterinarians only, thus isolating non-medical employees.
- Administrative controls might involve comprehensive training in animal handling.
- PPE is the last option when other controls are not feasible. This might include muzzles and other animal restraint methods.
Team Training Is Crucial
As you look at developing a plan for each known or potential hazard, work closely with the safety team to apply the Hierarchy of Controls in a way that makes sense. Print each plan and put it in a safety plan binder for employee reference.
Training is the next step once the safety plans have been developed. It isn’t enough for the safety committee to understand the plans. The entire team needs to be trained on each hazard and how to minimize the risk of injury or illness. The plans should be reviewed annually in conjunction with a hazard inspection.
Having a positive and proactive approach to practice safety is important. No one wants to be on the receiving end of an OSHA inspection and fine, but by paying attention to the rules and regulations, you can achieve and maintain compliance and provide a safe work environment for your employees.