Veterinary Safety & Health: Physical Safety

Physical Safety

Veterinarins working with cow in restraint equipment.

Photo credit: USDA Agricultural Research Service/Peggy Greb

Animal handling and restraint hazards

  • Improved livestock handling facility design and restraining facilities can decrease injuries in animals and workers.
  • Most bite, scratch, kick, and crush injuries from animals can be prevented by using appropriate restraint and following established procedures.
  • Significant injuries and medical emergencies may result if proper procedures are not followed or precautions are not taken.
  • Bite and scratch wounds should receive immediate medical evaluation and care due to risks of infection and rabies exposure.

AVMA Dog bite preventionexternal icon

AVMA, Journal of the AVMA: Zoonosis Update: Animal Bitespdf iconexternal icon

Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association: Animal Handling and Restraintpdf iconexternal icon

Auburn University Livestock Safety Resourcesexternal icon

National Agriculture Safety Database Resourcesexternal icon Resourcesexternal icon

Temple Grandin Livestock Behavior, Design of Facilities, and Humane Slaughterexternal icon

Ergonomic and musculoskeletal hazards

  • Strains, sprains, back injuries and other repetitive motion injuries may occur when lifting, restraining, and treating animals
  • Extensive computer use may have ergonomic risks

AVMA Ergonomics Guidelines for Veterinary Practicesexternal icon

NIOSH Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders

OSHA Ergonomics for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in Laboratoriespdf iconexternal icon

Eye hazards

Eye safety concerns include:

  • Penetration wounds from animals, tools, and equipment
  • Contamination with dust or other airborne contaminants

NIOSH Eye Safety

OSHA Eye and Face Protectionexternal icon

Heat stress

NIOSH Heat stress

OSHA Occupational Heat Exposureexternal icon

Ionizing radiation

Risk of exposure during radiography increases with the:

  • physical restraint of animals
  • use of older or poorly maintained equipment
  • inadequate use of protective garments

NIOSH Reproductive Health – Ionizing Radiation

OSHA Ionizing radiationexternal icon

Laser hazards

OSHA Laser hazardsexternal icon

OSHA Laser/Electrosurgery Plumeexternal icon

OSHA/Laser Institute of America Alliance Resourcesexternal icon

Motor vehicle hazards

Commuting between farms, facilities, and/or patients increases the risk of motor vehicle accidents.

NIOSH Motor vehicle safety at work

CDC Motor vehicle safety

Needlestick, scalpel and other sharps hazards

CDC Sharps Safety for Healthcare Settings

OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Preventionexternal icon

OSHA Standards Interpretation: Application of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard to Veterinary Clinicsexternal icon

Ontario Veterinary College Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses; Worms and Germs Blog: Needlestick Injury Information Sheet for Pet Ownerspdf iconexternal icon


Sources of noise above recommended levels in veterinary workplaces may include:

  • Barking dogs in kennels and other confined spaces
  • Swine when being handled
  • Loud machinery and equipment

NIOSH Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention

OSHA Occupational Noise Exposureexternal icon

OSHA Laboratory Safety – Noisepdf iconexternal icon

NIOSH Health hazard evaluation (HHE) report: HETA-2007-0068-3042, Noise exposures and hearing loss assessments among animal shelter workers, Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Algiers, Louisiana pdf icon[PDF – 931 KB]

NIOSH HHE report: HETA-2006-0222-3037, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Cincinnati, Ohio pdf icon[PDF – 846 KB]

NIOSH HHE report: HETA-2006-0212-3035, Kenton County Animal Shelter, Covington, Kentucky pdf icon[PDF – 870 KB]

NIOSH HHE report: HETA-2006-0196-3036, Liberty Veterinary Hospital, Liberty Township, Ohio pdf icon[PDF – 871 KB]

NIOSH HHE report: HETA-2004-0046-2950, Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa pdf icon[PDF – 1.2 MB]

Outdoor physical hazards

NIOSH Cold stress

NIOSH Heat stress

NIOSH Sun Exposure

Respiratory hazards

  • Many types of organic and inorganic dust and other airborne contaminants are present in confined animals feeding operations and other animal facilities.
  • Dust is generated from feed, bedding, manure, and many other sources.
  • Dust can be an irritant or an allergen.
  • Chloramine compounds generated in settings such as poultry plants from interactions between chlorinated water and nitrogenous materials are respiratory irritants.
  • Cleaners and disinfectants similar to those used in veterinary settings have been associated with asthma in a variety of settings, including human healthcare (see Chemical Safety section).

NIOSH Request for Assistance in Preventing Organic Toxic Dust Syndromepdf icon
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 94-102 (1994)

North Carolina Swine Veterinary Group: Occupational Hazards on Swine Farmsexternal icon

King BS, Page EH, Mueller CA, Dollberg DD, Gomez KE, Warren AM [2006]. Eye and respiratory symptoms in poultry processing workers exposed to chlorine by-products
Am J Ind Med 49(2):119-26

Arif AA, Delclos GL [2012]. Association between cleaning-related chemicals and work-related asthma and asthma symptoms among healthcare professionals
Occup Environ Med 69(1):35-40

Slips, trips, and falls

Farms, animal facilities, and veterinary facilities may have slippery or uneven surfaces which put workers at risk of injury from slipping, tripping, or falling.

NIOSH Slip, Trip, and Fall Prevention for Healthcare Workerspdf icon
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2011-123 (2010)

OSHA Healthcare Slips, Trips, and Fallsexternal icon

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Prevention of Slips, Trips, and Fallsexternal icon

Waste disposal

AVMA Waste Disposal by Veterinary Practices: What Goes Where?external icon

National Center for Manufacturing Sciences Veterinary Compliance Assistanceexternal icon

Page last reviewed: June 7, 2018