Safety in the workplace is as important in veterinary medicine as anywhere else, and it helps veterinarians and support staff to provide the very best care. Grant Miller, DVM, director of Regulatory Affairs for the California Veterinary Medical Association, spoke at the 2012 American Association of Equine Practitioners' Convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif. He focused on protocols for veterinarian compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) regulations.
Miller stressed that OHSA regulations are in place specifically to protect employees. The practice owner(s) is (are) responsible for having established plans for injury, illness, emergency action, and fire prevention and for ensuring a program for hazard communication exists.
One important OHSA protocol pertaining to injury or illness described by Miller is the Heat Illness Prevention Program (HIPP), which accounts for ambient temperatures greater than 80 degrees Fahrenheit--employees must have appropriate opportunities for rest breaks in the shade and available cool water. Management counsels employees on how to recognize the stages of heat illness--heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and, finally, heat stroke--and how to render first aid.
As explained by Miller, an Emergency Action Plan (EAP) includes escape procedures, provisions for knowing where employees are at all times, assignments for rescue and medical duties, as well as lists of other sources to contact for additional information. Specific staff training in EAP recommendations helps practice owners ensure efficient handling of an emergency situation.
The Fire Protection Plan identifies potential fire hazards, ignition sources, and the best ways to control these. "Prevention is paramount to controlling fire hazards," remarked Miller. In this effort, certain persons trained for the task are designated to control and discard flammable waste. Miller listed examples of important fire control measures: using surge protectors, intact extension cords, and double-insulated, grounded electrical sockets and cords.
Miller reminded his audience about the value of the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that accompany drugs and chemicals stored at the facility when building a hazard communication program. The veterinary practice should have a list of known hazardous substances and a policy statement about handling these. Staff should label all pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and supplies to prevent handling errors. Practice owners should establish a protocol for handling spills, including recommendations for personal protective equipment necessary for cleanup.