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Veterinary Safety & Health: Hazard Prevention and Infection Control

Veterinarian washing his hands.

Hazard Prevention and Infection Control

Recommendations for Employers

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe workplace. Effective safety and health programs (also known as injury and illness prevention programs) have been shown to reduce workplace injuries and illnesses and associated costs. Employers should develop a comprehensive written safety and health program that addresses key elements:

  • Management leadership.
  • Worker participation.
  • Hazard identification and assessment.
  • Hazard prevention and control.
  • Education and training.
  • Program evaluation and improvement.
  • Communication and coordination for host employers, contractors, and staffing agencies.

Employers of veterinary medicine and animal care workers should:

  • Develop and implement a comprehensive written workplace-specific safety and health program.
  • Review and update the written safety and health program periodically.
  • Document and maintain staff records of training, immunizations, and work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Comply with Federal and State occupational hazard laws.
  • Comply with relevant Federal, State, and local laws such as proper veterinary waste management and disposal.
  • Inform all workers and volunteers about potential workplace hazards.
  • Promote safe work habits including best infection control practices.
  • Have a medical surveillance system in place to record and report workplace-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Ensure that equipment is maintained and operated safely.

Prevention through Design

One of the best ways to prevent and control workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities is to “design out” or minimize hazards and risks early in the design process. Prevention through design efforts in veterinary facilities and processes can protect workers and animals and be cost-effective.

  • Consider safety in the design and construction of animal handling, restraint, housing and other veterinary facilities.
  • Consider safety in the design of processes such as animal restraint and anesthetic gas control systems.

NIOSH Prevention through Design

Temple Grandin Livestock Behavior, Design of Facilities, and Humane Slaughter

Hierarchy of Controls

The hierarchy of controls listed below should be followed to most effectively protect veterinary medicine and animal care workers from workplace hazards. Different categories of methods for controlling hazards are listed in general order of effectiveness. However, an individual preventive intervention may be more or less important than suggested by its’ general category. Some examples are provided. Often a combination of engineering and administrative controls and personal protective equipment (PPE) are needed to adequately protect workers from workplace hazards. PPE should be used only when other controls cannot effectively reduce hazardous exposures.

  • Elimination: remove the hazard from the workplace
    • e.g., do not admit animals for which the facility is not properly equipped
  • Substitution: switch to the use of a less risky hazard
    • e.g., switch to the use of safer chemicals
  • Engineering controls: prevent exposure to a hazard or place a barrier between the hazard and the worker
    • e.g., install an effective waste anesthetic gas scavenging system
  • Administrative controls: implement changes in work practices and management policies
    • e.g., require rabies pre-exposure vaccination for workers at risk
  • PPE: use gloves, safety eyewear, masks, hearing protection, respirators, or other protective equipment
    • e.g., require the use of hearing protection in an animal shelter with barking dogs

Worker Training

Veterinary medicine and animal care workers should be trained about hazards before they begin work. Refresher training should be conducted at regular intervals as required or as needed. Training should include information about the following:

  • Potential workplace hazards.
  • Occupational risks for pregnant and immunocompromised workers.
  • Effective use of controls for reducing workplace exposures.
  • Veterinary standard precautions including infection control practices.
  • Safe handling, restraint, and care of animals.
  • Preventing needlestick, scalpel, and sharps injury.
  • Proper care and use of PPE.
  • Prompt reporting of work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Emergency and evacuation procedures.


OSHA Hazard Communication

National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) Veterinary Standard Precautions Compendium

NASPHV Model Infection Control Plan for Veterinary Practices

CDC Healthy Pets Healthy People

Center for Food Security and Public Health, Iowa State University – Infection Control

Canadian Council on Antibiotic Resistance, Infection Prevention and Control Best Practices for Small Animal Veterinary Clinics

Ontario Veterinary College Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses: Worms & Germs Blog