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Safety Protocols in Practice

Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR, interFace Veterinary HR Systems, Appleton, Wisconsin

May 2014|Peer Reviewed

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Safety Protocols in Practice

One management mantra that rings true time and time again, It is not your fault, but it is your problem, is definitely true when it comes to keeping a veterinary team safe. As the practitioner and/or manager, you may assume that each employee is responsible for his or her own health and safety, but the practice bears some, if not all, the blame if a team member gets hurt or sick at work.

For example: What if a team member does not wear a lead apron while helping with radiographs? If he or she has been exposed to a dangerous amount of radiation over time, the practice is likely partially to blame. Why? Because the burden of proof, or responsibility, rests with the practice; the team is expected to follow safety protocols.1

Related Article: Pregnancy in the Veterinary Workplace: Handling the Risks

So, the following must be asked:

  • Was that new team member trained to use Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in radiology before being exposed to radiation?
  • Was the training documented?
  • Was the training repeated regularly, at least annually?
  • Was the safety information not only reviewed with the team member, but did he or she also demonstrate a complete understanding of the training? Was that documented?
  • Was the team member counseled and retrained, if necessary, the first time management was notified that he or she did not wear an apron? Was that conversation documented?
  • Did management warn the team member that if he or she continuedto ignore the protocol and not wear the apron, he or she would be terminated? Again, was the disciplinary process documented?

As the team member’s employer, you must be able to answer Yes to each question and the team member either consistently wears an apron or is terminated.

Is informing your team about the dangers of radiation enough? Unfortunately, no.1 

Every practice should also have a separate safety manual, given to every new hire, that explains the rules and the team members’ accountability. The protocols should also be summarized in the employee handbook or policy manual:

  • Practice policies for all positions should be included in the orientation of every new team member. The training should take place before he or she is exposed to potentially hazardous situations; for example, a new technician should be trained about radiography risks before he or she helps with a radiograph.
  • Another common mantra usually applied to medical records, If it isn’t written down, it didn’t happen, also applies to safety training. Document the training and make sure the record is signed, dated, and kept in the personnel file.
  • Give tests and quizzes to grade team members and demonstrate that they understand the safety information. Document the tests and grades.
  • Emphasize that it is mandatory for the entire team to follow safety protocols. Counsel team members, use disciplinary measures, and send a very clear message: If safety protocols are not followed, members will no longer be on the team.

With any practice policy or protocol, team members are more likely to follow rules when they buy in and understand the necessity for and agree with the rules. Help the team understand the risks they may be taking with their health by educating them about the effects of too much radiation or chemotherapy drug exposure and the danger of any hazard not labeled correctly.

Every practice wants the entire team to be safe and healthy; no practice should tolerate any team member who does not follow its safety rules.


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