Animal Attacks Rank as Significant Workplace Risk


So, how serious is the injury threat to veterinarians?

O, how serious is the injury threat to veterinarians?

The highest number of nonfatal occupational injuries from animals are dog attacks, according to a retrospective study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, animal attacks rate as a significant cause of occupational injury for veterinarians and staff. Photo courtesy of Crossroads Animal Hospital, Strongsville, Ohio.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) study, working with animals poses unique hazards and the results can be deadly.

Dino Drudi, an economist in the Office of Safety Health and Working Conditions at BLS and lead author of an indepth retrospective study, sheds light on the risks to veterinarians and any other animal handlers.

Drudi says the data the BLS team examined in the study on animals as occupational hazards from 1992-1997 cannot be broken out exclusively for veterinarians, but certainly veterinary practitioners share some of the same risks as other animal handlers.

"We have taken this data as far as it can go," he tells DVM Newsmagazine.

Inside the data

The report, first published in BLS's Compensation and Working Conditions Fall 2000 edition, estimates that there were 75,000 animal-related nonfatal cases in that five-year span. On average, BLS reports there are 63 fatal injuries and 12,500 nonfatal injuries and illnesses involving animals each year.

The study reports that when looking at fatalities, cattle rank as the most dangerous to workers, equine took second place, dogs came in third and cats fourth, the report says. The study also investigated occupational injuries from birds, insects, fish and reptiles.

Of the 13,800 nonfatal injuries and illnesses involving days from work caused by dogs, almost three-quarters were caused by animal attacks. (See Table 1.) Overexertion, primarily when lifting, accounted for nearly all the remaining cases, Drudi reports. Fatalities from dogs were associated with highway and nonindustrial off-road vehicle crashes, which included swerving to avoid collisions.

Cats were involved in 4,600 nonfatal occupational injuries, according to the report, and were not responsible for any fatalities. Almost all the injuries inflicted by cats are from attacks whether it is a bite or scratch.

The data says, however, dogs pose a larger work hazard than cats.

"Nonfarm animal caretakers, such as might work in a veterinarian's office, pet store or kennel, account for the largest number of injuries and illnesses inflicted by dogs and cats alike," the report states.

Australian study looks deeper

Last year, an Australian study conducted out of the School of Public Health, Curtin University of Technology in Bentley, Western Australia (Aust Vet J 2000 Sep; 78(9): 625-629 investigated occupational causes of injuries to veterinarians).

Injuries accounted for most workers' compensation claims over a 12-month period with 31 percent of respondents losing a total of 360 days with a mean of 13.3 days. Over a 10-year period, 71 percent of the survey's respondents had been injured.

The majority of physical injuries were bites from dogs and cats, cat scratches, scalpel blade cuts and back injuries from lifting heavy animals. Exposure to chemicals such as flea rinses, formalin, glutaradehyde, X-ray developers and gaseous anesthetics were reported to cause headaches, nausea and allergies.

This study's conclusion is a word of caution and warning, "Injuries and other occupational hazards reported together with work days lost demonstrate a need for improving the working environment of veterinarians and their staff and the development of comprehensive health and safety programs."

Drudi sums up the BLS study this way, "Working with, or in the presence of, a particular animal requires special attention to the unique hazards it poses."

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