If you run a veterinary practice, regardless of size and number of employees, the practice is required to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees and comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules.
OSHA: An Overview
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, was created by Congress in 1970 "to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance."
Most private-sector employers and employees are covered under OSHA, which sets health and safety standards for jobs in industries such as construction, hospitals/healthcare, maritime, as well as others. OSHA standards are intended to prevent workplace injuries or deaths before they occur by identifying potential hazards in the workplace, educating employers about these hazards to ensure they address these hazards by implementing protocols and monitoring daily occurrences to keep employees safe and healthy. Employers who fall under OSHA’s jurisdiction can be fined if they do not comply with these federally-mandated standards.
When a workplace accident or incident occurs, employers must file an OSHA report. Employees are encouraged to do the same. If an employee observes a non-compliant situation in the workplace, s/he has a right to file an OSHA complaint.
OSHA and the veterinary industry
The OSHA standards that govern the veterinary-industry address the following issues:
- General safety
- Animal handling and restraint
- Infection control
- Bloodborne pathogens
- Hazardous chemicals
- Workplace violence
- Fire safety
- Personal protective equipment
- Radiation safety
- Laser safety
- Controlled substances
- Hearing protection
Anything not covered in a specific regulation usually falls under OSHA’s General Duty Clause, which requires employers to furnish employees a workplace free from hazards that are likely to cause serious harm or death.
A manager’s role in complying with OSHA
OSHA compliance is essential. Practices not in compliance run a greater risk of exposing their employees, patients, and clients to dangers that could result in injury or death. Practices that fail to comply can incur fines and lawsuits.
Practice managers and human resources representatives are expected to promote a safe work environment, but they do not need to become safety experts to accomplish this. According to Brandon Hess, CVPM, CCFP, “In the veterinary industry, as well as other industries, OSHA contributes to job safety. Managers have a duty to be aware of and be sure that the entire practice complies with all rules and regulations.”
Despite a manager's best efforts to understand rules governing the workplace and be diligent about ensuring there are no infractions, accidents and mishaps happen. Hess underscored the importance of reporting accidents or near-misses in the workplace. He said, ”Creating a safe workplace means that managers are transparent about mishaps and accidents. Failure to report even minor events can leave a practice vulnerable. It is important that managers follow OSHA rules and take steps to determine why an incident has occurred and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Hess stressed that it is not difficult to comply with OSHA’s rules. The regulations are clear. A manager should strive to be informed and committed to doing as directed. Some of the steps he recommends include:
Attend training courses.
Hess recommends that the managers, or designated OSHA representatives, attend training courses on a regular basis. For more information, check out the OSHA Training Institute Education Centers (https://www.osha.gov/dte/edcenters/)
Refer to reference material.
OSHA makes reference material available that can be printed and posted. Training and reference material are available at OSHA’s Training and Reference Materials Library at https://www.osha.gov/dte/library/materials_library.html. These materials cover a wide range of topics and are industry-specific. Make sure employees are provided with copies of all relevant materials.
Adopt an anonymous reporting policy.
Encourage employees to report violations internally. Anonymous reporting increases the likelihood that unsafe practices and infractions of rules are reported to practice managers promptly and, hopefully, can be corrected before causing harm or injuries.
Conduct random inspections.
Random inspections keep employees on their toes and provide opportunities to identify and address unsafe practices and behavior. When a violation is identified, be sure corrective action is taken, and employees receive further training and education.
Getting the team onboard
Simply talking about safety will not prevent all accidents. Make sure staff members are aware and informed about proper procedures and that the practice has a holistic approach to ensure an accident-free workplace. Keep in mind that the OSHA manual is not a coffee table book. It is an active document with essential information that designated employees should be intimately familiar with.
For additional information, consider enrolling in the online program OSHA and Safety Management course offered through VHMA/PVU Management Essentials, Strengthening Core Competencies to Advance Management Skills.