Examine your veterinary practice evacuation plan
Heroes need not apply. In an emergency evacuation, your employees should focus on saving themselves.
First, be aware that OSHA requires you to create a fire prevention and emergency response plan, says Phil Seibert, CVT, owner of SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. If your practice has fewer than 10 employees, OSHA allows you to prepare an oral plan instead of a written one. But Seibert recommends taking the time to write your plan to avoid confusion and misunderstanding.
In a simple fire plan, you'll create an evacuation diagram, outline how an employee should alert others about the emergency, and designate an assembly area. If you add any additional duties team members must perform, you must train them and provide protective equipment.
In some veterinary practices, team members struggle with any plan that doesn't include evacuating animals. So in response, these practices have developed variations of the "technicians evacuate animals, receptionists evacuate clients" principle. This is unwise.
Anytime a person is assigned duties to perform in an emergency, the business must provide adequate training and equipment for that person to do the job safely. Since emergencies such as fires aren't normal operations, you can't possibly provide enough training for your employees to be competent in these evacuation situations.
In addition, if you assign team members emergency-situation tasks, your practice must meet the provisions of OSHA's Fire Brigade Standard. This includes, among other things, fireproof clothing and air-supplied respirators for each person. It also requires you to conduct proficiency drills regularly to determine whether people react competently in different situations.
In a profession that's as caring and compassionate as ours, the idea of leaving animals behind in an emergency is tough to swallow. Unfortunately, the reality is that veterinary team members can't possibly train or equip themselves to evacuate pets safely in these situations. Sometimes we have to accept that we can't perform every task we want to do.
Furthermore, you don't want to risk a team member becoming trapped or incapacitated in the facility. If this happens, trained professionals must abandon their animal rescue attempts until all human occupants are safe.
Even if your plan simply allows team members to take rescue actions on their own initiative, your business may still be held accountable both from a regulatory and civil standpoint. When it comes to preparing for emergencies, the best advice is to leave all rescue duties to the professionals and establish a triage and treatment area for animals once they are evacuated.