DANGER LURKS AT EVERY TURN IN EQUINE PRACTICE. Drug users and sellers have their eyes on your ketamine—"special K" on the streets. Carjackers are waiting for you to leave your truck doors unlocked. Thieves can spring your building's window latches in nothing flat.
Now forget about crime; let's talk medicine. What about radiographs and nuclear energy? Somebody skips the gloves or radiation badge, or holds the cassette in unprotected hands, and before you know it, that person is over the limit and off the machines for who knows how long. And horses—those beautiful, giant creatures. Find yourself stuck without an exit in a stall, down on your knees next to a tender limb, or at the mercy of someone who's not restraining the horse correctly, and pow! A broken bone, concussion, or worse.
The idea isn't to scare you, although we do want to get your attention. You face some special dangers, and you need to be smart about the way you practice. You can't completely prevent injuries, accidents, or crime at your workplace, but you can take steps to keep yourself and your team safer.
Hazards of horse medicine
Much of the danger in equine medicine is your proximity to a large animal, and often you're not the one restraining it. It's the owner, groom, technician, or veterinary assistant who has to hold the horse steady, get the twitch on right, and moving it to keep the horse calm. But if you keep in mind the potential safety pitfalls, you can lower your risk considerably.
Considering horses' size and unpredictable behavior, you'll do yourself and any assistants a favor if you take a moment to think before doing anything around a patient. It's easy to become complacent when you follow the same routine, says Phil Seibert, CVT, whose company, SafetyVet, consults with equine practices on safety training and OSHA requirements. And don't forget to let everyone involved know what you're planning to do before you do it.
"Don't put yourself in a stall with nowhere to go. Don't put your hand in a head clamp or stocks. Don't pass instruments or straps between the animal and stocks," he says. "It takes just a second for a horse to shift its weight and break your arm." If you're not 100 percent certain the person who's restraining the horse can handle the job, don't forget every equine doctor's best friend: sedation.
Equine teams can get complacent about radiation safety too, Seibert says. "You don't feel the pain when radiation exposure occurs, so team members can take shortcuts that hurt them in the long run," he says.
Three components of safety
The key to training your team to be safe around horses and careful with chemicals and radiation is a three-pronged approach, Seibert says. Your team needs:
1. Knowledge. What should employees know to stay safe? Write down a list of safety issues you've observed that haven't been addressed properly. Educate yourself about these issues. Spend some time reading Veterinary Economics and visiting VIN.com (Veterinary Information Network) and VSPN.com (Veterinary Support Personnel Network) to see what other equine practitioners are dealing with. Then decide whether you want to educate your team yourself, bring in a consultant, or assign a long-term employee to take responsibility for training.
The bottom line