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Ensuring safe working for the vet team
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By Georgina Mills

AS the Covid-19 lockdown begins to relax, what does this mean for the veterinary profession?

On 11 May, the UK government produced information on how to keep businesses safe as lockdown is eased, and the BVA has now published updated guidance on how to transition from providing essential veterinary care only to providing a more normal range of veterinary services while working safely.

In addition to advice on face coverings (see p 548), BVA president Daniella Dos Santos summarised the main points in her Covid-19 webinar on 17 May, see below:

Risk assessments

A 2 metre social distance should be maintained, where possible. This includes while arriving and leaving work, while in work and travelling between various sites.

Where social distancing cannot be followed, practices should carry out a risk assessment to decide if the activity needs to take place, taking into account all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission between staff.

Practices should share the results with their workforce and, if possible, the results should be shared on their website.

Minimising staff contact

It is not always possible to maintain 2 metre distancing while at work, and this is certainly the case for the veterinary profession. Ways to mitigate the risks include:

Stagger start/break times, and have designated entry and exit points into the building

  • Staggering start/break times;

  • Reducing congestion in high-traffic areas, eg, have designated entry and exit points into the building;

  • Work in consistent pairs or small teams;

  • Allocate teams to specific work places;

  • Do not share equipment;

  • Do not share food.

Rethink physical space and layout

If space has been freed up by remote working, consider using this for:

  • Additional workplaces;

  • Additional break areas.

Screens could also be installed in reception areas. Although clients are unlikely to enter the practice and wait inside at the moment, practices should be planning ahead for when lockdown is eased further.

Make sure ventilation systems are serviced and in working order.

Home visits

Attending a household known to have Covid-19

If a vet has been asked to attend a Covid-19-positive household, they will need to assess the clinical situation as well as the risk to their own safety. They should consider:

  • Can the owner get someone else to bring the patient in?

  • Can the animal be examined outside, such as in the garden?

In the unlikely event of needing to carry out a house visit in an infected household, a full risk assessment must be carried out.

Attending a household not known to have Covid-19

Vets should risk assess and plan ahead for households that are not infected. Discuss plans with the home owners in advance, covering things like social distancing and hygiene measures to be followed.

Ask clients to keep all internal doors open to allow ventilation and ask that only one member of the household is present per vet visit – ideally they should be in a separate room.

Work in fixed-pair teams, and try to make sure the same people visit the same household if more than one visit if required.

Farm, yard and stable visits

Outside work carries a lower risk of infection, but social distancing rules should still be adhered to.

Those working outdoors should:

  • Ensure physical safety when working with large animals, while maintaining social distancing as much as possible;

  • Consider working in fixed teams to maximise safe working and minimise overall contacts;

  • Where possible, examine animals in the open air, such as a field or yard, rather than in an enclosed environment;

  • Minimise contact with the client, and where face-to-face interaction is required, there should only be one person per visit and a 2 metre distance should be kept.

Do not enter the farmhouse or other residential area, and do not accept any drinks or food.

Vehicles

Vehicles also carry risks, and these need to be minimised. Multiple occupancy vehicles should be avoided where possible.

Where vehicles need to be shared:

  • Use a fixed pairing system;

  • Maximise space between occupants, sit diagonally;

  • Maintain good ventilation, open windows;

  • Regularly clean vehicles with emphasis on high-touch surfaces, such as door handles;

  • Keep hand sanitiser in the car.

The BVA’s updated guidance on Covid-19 can be found at www.bva.co.uk/coronavirus

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