The Hard Human Side of a Veterinarians’s Job

Occupational risk in the veterinary profession is a subject that in general is not getting the attention it deserves,but is needed to make changes for the better. That’s why it is great to see the results of a British study in Equine Veterinary Journal April 2018 by Parker et al on the Occupational Risk of Working with Horses: A questionnaire survey of equine veterinary surgeons.

The results of this study should set all alarm bells off in our veterinary profession and beyond. Together, the 620 British equine veterinarians that filled out the survey had 8204 years of experience and during this time reported 2292 injuries. So this equates on average one injury every 3 years and 7 months. Mind you, this in only counting equine veterinarians that are still doing clinical work and leaves out colleagues that have retired early due to bad experience or injuries. Almost one third of the respondents know an equine practitioner that has given up equine work or veterinary work altogether, retired or has been killed as a result of an injury sustained when working with a horse. Furthermore almost one third said they had chronic injuries or illnesses attributable to equine veterinary work. Also alarming is the fact that 22% of the respondents stated that these injuries or accidents have impact on their psychological wellbeing.

In other industries accident rates are measured as the number of injuries per 100.000 employees per annum. This study showed that in this group of 620 British equine vets there would be an injury per vet every 3 years and 7 months so per year this would be 0,27 injuries. Doing the math on this group and extrapolating to 100.000 equine vets this would be an accident rate of 27.000 injuries per annum. This leaves the accident rates of jobs like prison service personnel 10.760, police officer 8.700, welding and metal formers 6.980, construction workers 4.760 and farm workers 4.620 far behind. Not really something to be proud of!

Most injuries happen when working with pleasure horses (38,4%), when the horse owner or client is holding the horse (47,6%), through a kick of a hind limb (49,1%) and when the horse is not sedated (63,5%).

Interesting is the split up of the number of the group average of injuries sustained per year (0,27) in groups related to the number of years working in equine practice. For those with up to 5 years in equine practice this was 0,83 for those 5 – 10 years in equine practice 0,47 for those with at least 15 year in equine practice this number was between 0,18 and 0,22 per year.

Luckily there are also lessons to be learned from the results of this survey, lessons that should be taken straight to the human resource responsible person in the practice.

  1. Real life experience in practice does make a difference. Make sure your new staff is well prepared and use your experienced staff to mentor young and upcoming talent.
  2. Provide professional support staff for your vets also on remote ambulatory work. Horse owners and clients are not always the most reliable hands at a farm.
  3. Create awareness about the risks of working with horses and make it a subject of reflection. This can very well be done by hiring a personal coach for your staff members preferably from the start but for sure after people have been injured.
  4. Support your staff when there are issues about sedating a horse.
  5. Rethink your workplace layout and organization in the clinic and look at it through a “safety lens”.
  6. Invest in personal protective equipment.

At Oculus Insights we believe your staff is your biggest asset and indispensable for a successful veterinary practice. Well managed human resources are the key to success.

Contact Oculus Insights to see how we can help you transform your Human Resource Management

Joop Loomans, DVM, PhD



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