Laser guidelines encompass veterinarians

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Laser surgery
A veterinarian and a veterinary student at Oklahoma State University demonstrate safe use of a laser for surgery. Safety precautions include use of a smoke evacuator, eyewear specific for the laser wavelength, and laser-safe surgical masks. (Courtesy of Dr. Kenneth E. Bartels)

Laser safety in veterinary medicine is now an integral part of the American National Standards Institute's Z136.3 guidelines for the safe use of lasers in health care.

In 2005, an appendix was added to that year's edition of the ANSI Z136.3 guidelines, for information only, on the safe use of lasers in veterinary medicine. The 2011 edition, newly available, retains the appendix, but also incorporates veterinary offices and animal patients throughout the body of the document.

"Having this accomplished will require manufacturers to work closer with vets on safety issues when selling the technology to them and also provides assurances that we take care of ourselves and our patients appropriately and safely when using the technology," said Dr. Kenneth E. Bartels, AVMA representative to the Z136.3 subcommittee and a professor of laser surgery at Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.

"These are guidelines but now carry a bit more weight on how we use lasers in veterinary medicine."

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and state regulatory agencies refer to the Z136.3 standard, Dr. Bartels noted.

More than a decade ago, the AVMA asked Dr. Bartels to become a liaison to the Z136.3 subcommittee to ensure that a veterinarian had input into guidelines applicable to the profession. He said some members of the subcommittee did not believe that veterinary medicine should be part of the standard, because the patients are not human.

"However, the vet as well as the tech involved in the laser technique—as well as our patients—warranted safe use of the technology," Dr. Bartels said.

The subcommittee agreed to add an appendix on veterinary medicine to the 2005 edition of the Z136.3 guidelines, and the 2011 edition continues to offer that appendix.

Following the completion of the 2005 edition, Dr. Bartels continued to advocate for the inclusion of veterinary medicine in the Z136.3 standard. The subcommittee agreed to incorporate veterinary medicine in the body of the 2011 document.

"It still leaves a lot of leeway in how veterinarians institute some of these guidelines," Dr. Bartels said.

Dr. Bartels said basic precautions for safe use of lasers in health care include posting signage and using a smoke evacuator and appropriate eyewear. The Z136.3 guidelines spell out precautions in great detail.

The AVMA Guidelines for Hazards in the Workplace state in part: "The use of lasers in Veterinary Medicine is becoming more common and it is paramount that the operator of the laser as well as the employer and all employees be thoroughly versed in the use and hazards of the use of the laser. ..." The AVMA refers veterinarians to the Z136.3 guidelines.

The Z136.3 guidelines are available for purchase from the Laser Institute of America at Members of the AVMA who reference "AVMA" with their orders will receive the LIA member price of $130. The regular price is $150.