Business Briefs: Veterinarians Preventing Work Injuries

The job of equine veterinarian holds risks of physical injury, so you should be thoughtful and prepared to avoid dangerous situations whenever possible.

kicking horse
Even the gentlest of horses can be startled or object to procedures and can injury a veterinarian. Getty Images

Many jobs that are highly physical result in either acute or chronic injuries—construction and agricultural workers come to mind as they could fall from ladders or get tangled in a PTO shaft. Equine veterinary practice is also a highly physical job because of the size and strength of the patients, the positions that must be assumed to perform the work, and the need to regularly carry or move equipment. Getting hurt is common in all physical professions, as working conditions typically include hazards on a daily basis.

Following a 2014 study, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) reported that being a horse vet in the UK appeared to carry the highest risk of injury of any civilian occupation in the United Kingdom. Their results indicated that an equine vet could expect to sustain between seven and eight work-related injuries that impeded them from practicing during a 30-year working life. The main cause of injury was a kick with a hind limb (49%) followed by strike with a fore limb (11%). Nearly a quarter of these reported injuries required hospital admission, with loss of consciousness occurring in 7% of those hospitalized.

Equine veterinarians in the US regularly go to work while injured, both because it is the culture of the industry to be tough and because many of those injured are solo practitioners whose livelihoods depend on them continuing to provide services without pause. Working on crutches, in a cast or shortly after a head injury is not  uncommon. Unfortunately, healing of musculoskeletal injuries can be suboptimal when prescribed rest cannot be followed. As veterinarians get older, these injuries show up as arthritis, instability and chronic pain.

Preventing injuries starts by acknowledging that staying safe might be costly in time and money. There also might be pushback from clients and employers when a veterinarian’s boundaries around staying safe are different from the previous generation of practitioners. Some doctors prefer to only do rectal examinations on sedated horses, preferably with the horse in stocks. While many have had a career without a single injury related to a rectal exam, others have been seriously injured. Equine veterinarians have been killed every year from kicks or strikes while they were doing routine services such as injecting hocks. It makes sense to take every precaution.

Utilization of sedation is especially important when the horse will experience discomfort from a procedure or is wary of humans. Control of the environment is also key to preventing injury, as the sudden appearance of a kid on a bicycle careening down the aisle, or a tractor backfiring, can startle the most sedate horses. Working in an area that blocks the patient from being approached from behind can be helpful. Having a level non-slip surface can prevent both the horse from falling and can give the doctor the ability to move quickly without tripping or slipping. B

Because being able to move quickly out of danger is commonly necessary, the veterinarian should scope out the surroundings before starting to work and make sure there are clear lines of escape without hazards. Being thrown into a wall often results in broken bones or a head injury, so making sure there is adequate work space is a key preventative strategy. Safe positioning after thinking through possible dangerous scenarios is crucial.

Having trained help to assist you decreases the potential of injury. In the BEVA study, when the worst injuries occurred, 48% of the handlers were the owner of the horse. Experienced staff have safety of the veterinarian topmost in their minds and are aware of the subtle changes that some horses demonstrate before they suddenly “blow up.” They can reliably handle various methods of restraint such as a lip chain or a twitch, and they understand where to be positioned to move a horse away from a vulnerable doctor. While good help is expensive, it is worth every penny to prevent injury.

Preventing an accident includes waiting for help before trying to catch or treat a horse, utilizing sedation liberally, creating a safe environment, employing a skilled veterinary technician and having a plan in the event of an emergency. Don’t leave this to chance!

Disclaimer: This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other medical providers with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in the article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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