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BEING an equine vet appears to carry the highest risk of injury of any civilian occupation in the UK, according to the results of a recent survey on injuries within the profession. The study, commissioned by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), was conducted by medical professionals at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing and the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Glasgow; the results have prompted BEVA to try to raise awareness of the risks and to look at ways of making equine veterinary practice safer.
Explaining the background to the survey, BEVA reports that anecdotal information had suggested that veterinary practitioners involved in equine work frequently sustained injuries as part of their work, but the prevalence and type of injury had never been quantified. It was widely thought that some vets had had to give up equine work due to a work-related injury and some fatalities had been reported, but injuries may have been inconsistently documented.
Former BEVA president, Keith Chandler, said: ‘We were coming across reports that vets were being injured, often seriously and occasionally fatally, when dealing with their patients. As a result, we commissioned this study to quantify and qualify the risks, which our members were facing while pursuing their professional career. It is a sad irony that some vets are being seriously injured in their efforts to protect the health of horses.’
A total of 620 equine vets completed a work-related injuries questionnaire between September and November 2013. The results indicated that an equine vet could expect to sustain between seven and eight work-related injuries, which impeded them from practising during a 30-year working life. Comparing this with data available from the Health and Safety Executive suggested that vets working in equine practice sustained a higher number of injuries than those working in other civilian occupations, including people in the construction industry, the prison service and the fire brigade.
Participants were asked to describe their worst-ever injury. Most were described as bruising, fracture and laceration, with the most common site of injury being the leg (29 per cent), followed by the head (23 per cent). The main cause of injury was a kick from a hindlimb (49 per cent), followed by strike with a forelimb (11 per cent), followed by crush injury (5 per cent). Nearly a quarter of these reported injuries required hospital admission and 7 per cent resulted in loss of consciousness.
Mr Chandler said: ‘We were shocked to discover the extent of the injuries sustained. Of greatest concern is the number of vets who suffered head injuries and unconsciousness. These injuries appeared to be more common when certain procedures were being performed, such as endoscopy of the upper respiratory tract, when vets are often only partly sighted while using examination equipment, or during wound management and bandage changes, where vets are often crouched-down for long periods, next to the patient.’
Thirty-eight per cent of the ‘worst’ injuries occurred when the vet was working with a pleasure horse and, frequently (48 per cent of all responses), the person handling the horse at the time of injury was the owner or client. While the number of lay people or handlers injured was low, Tim Parkin, the lead researcher, pointed out: ‘This work should act as a wake up call to all involved in the training, employment and engagement of equine vets. The risks associated with handling and working with horses should be the primary consideration for equine vets and horse owners alike, every time a horse is examined or treated. In addition, the experience of the horse handler should be considered when undertaking riskier procedures.’
David Mountford, chief executive of BEVA said the results were ‘very concerning’ and justified further study. In the meantime, he said, ‘Knowledge of these risks allows us to better inform all vets who work with horses. In turn, vets will be able to inform horse owners, horse-keepers and trainers of the risks, and this may provide justification for having trained assistance on-hand or the more extensive use of sedative drugs in practice, potentially reducing the risk of injury. BEVA will now look to work with the Health and Safety Executive, veterinary schools, large employers of vets in the UK and our members to help develop policies to mitigate the risk of serious injury for vets working with horses.’
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