Veterinary Ergonomic Guidelines

Ergonomic guidelines are necessary and have been created by veterinarians for use within the profession.

Risk factors in veterinary medicine include awkward postures; high hand force; highly repetitive motions; repeated impact; heavy, frequent, or awkward lifting; and moderate to high hand-arm vibration.

What to do if you identify a "Caution Zone Task"

  • Initially:
    • Ask for employee involvement and suggestions.
    • Analyze caution zone tasks for hazards. Identify jobs or tasks that have produced prior ergonomics related injury. History may repeat itself.
    • Find solutions to these hazards. Consider implementing engineering controls to design the hazard out of the workplace. For example: a practice may purchase lift tables to reduce the exposure to injury when lifting larger or heavy pets/animals.
    • Evaluate the success of the solutions. Communicate the success to your staff and ask for their feedback to insure the changes are working.
  • Provide job-specific training on proper use of solutions
  • Keep in touch with ergonomics efforts through the veterinary profession and through continuing education for the entire staff

Six key points to remember:

  1. Ergonomics can help you in your practice
  2. Some states already require employers to implement ergonomics programs
  3. Work-related Musculo-skeletal Disorders (WMSDs) can happen in jobs with risk factors
  4. Risk factors can be reduced and WMSDs prevented
  5. Reporting symptoms early is important
  6. You need to involve all staff members to successfully implement ergonomics changes

Ergonomics Guidelines for Veterinary Practice

Risk factors that could lead to Musculo-skeletal Injury Examples* of Tasks relevant to veterinary medicine
   
1) Awkward Postures  
a) Working with the hand(s) above the head, or the elbow(s) above the shoulder, for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Floating teeth; rectal palpations; dystocias; prolapse repair; stocking shelves
b) Working with the neck, back or wrist(s) bent more than 30 degrees for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Dystocias; colic surgeries; palpations; floating teeth; venipuncture; grooming; kennel and stall cleaning; data entry
c) Squatting or kneeling for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Bleeding swine; surgeries performed while kneeling; low stress handling techniques
d) Sustained position for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Surgery; dentistry; driving a vehicle; tasks that require a static posture
   
2) High Hand Force  
a) Pinching an object and applying more than 2 pounds of force per hand for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Large animal abdominal surgeries
b) Gripping an object and applying more than 10 pounds of force per hand for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Ear tagging; restraint
   
3) Highly Repetitive Motion  
a) Repeating the same motion with the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, or hands with little or no variation every few seconds for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury. ** Palpation; administration of injections; dental work; grooming/trimming; surgical procedures; venipuncture and blood collection
b) Performing intensive keying for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Data entry
   
4) Forceful Exertions  
Sustained or static forceful muscle contractions restrict blood flow to an area which can have an adverse effect on the local nerve tissue Patient lifting, restraining, and positioning; carrying equipment; large animal foot and leg work; carrying feed and other products; dystocias
a) Repeatedly lifting heavy objects until muscle fatigue occurs which could lead to musculo-skeletal injuries.** Patient lifting, restraining, and positioning; carrying equipment; large animal foot and leg work; carrying feed and other products; dystocias
b) Infrequently lifting heavy objects until muscle fatigue occurs which could lead to musculo-skeletal injuries.** Patient lifting, restraining, and positioning; carrying equipment; large animal foot and leg work; carrying feed and other products; dystocias
   
5) Moderate to High Vibration  
a) Using motorized equipment, percussive tools (scalers) or other hand tools that typically have moderate to high vibration for extended time periods which could cause muscle fatigue and injury.**
b) Specifically with hand tools white finger or trigger finger injuries can be sustained from the force applied to the trigger and handle of the tool
Equine dentistry (using motorized equipment); power grinding hooves
   
6) Repeated Impact  
a) Impacting with the hand or knee repetitively for extended time periods that could cause muscle fatigue and injury.** Unlikely to occur in a veterinary care environment, but acknowledged as a risk factor
** Muscle fatigue is a variable that can occur at different levels depending on individual body physique and conditioning.