Notes for Veterinary Surgeons, Written by a Veterinary Surgeon


You are a veterinary surgeon spending all or part of your professional time attending to horses. A compassionate, caring person who has worked hard to achieve an intellectually demanding professional qualification which you now practise for the good of the animals you treat and the owners who care for them.

You work in the most dangerous civilian occupation. Head injuries in this workplace are frighteningly common.

As an extremely well respected professional individual, are you a disposable commodity? Easily replaceable? Because that’s the conclusion anyone doing an objective risk assessment will reach regarding the current Standard Operating Procedures for veterinary surgeons who work with large animals, especially horses.

I have been there. As a relatively recently qualified veterinary surgeon, I suffered multiple skull fractures from a kick to the head when moving past a horse. I was not a novice in terms of being with horses, having worked with them from a young age. After scoring 9 on the GCS required emergency surgeries and ultimately metal plates in my head, with extraordinary help from family I slowly recovered over two years. However the sting in the tail is that many years later I have also developed had to live with epilepsy which presents in many different forms, and can be extremely difficult to try to adapt to living with.

Food for thought:

Regarding the beautiful, but unpredictable at times creatures that we work with, horses do not have a label on them “I might kick”, or “I might shove anyone in the vicinity against that wall or the bolt on that door”, and with no apparent forewarning. Do not forget this.

Do you feel under pressure from your employer, colleagues or clients? Is the competition a swanky man/woman “superhero” that gets out of every difficult situation, irrespective and miraculously?

Is your work stating that it’s up to each individual to decide how they perform their duties and if they want to wear a protective helmet during their work? Surely the employer and the whole team should as a whole institute and support sensible and safe working practices.

Remember we are not still in the Third World working under the dictates of a tyrannical employer who has total disregard for employees’ safety. Yes, wages have to paid and the business kept afloat, but do not forget, the Health and Safety Executive also imposes hefty fines these days (for example regarding unsafe handling of drugs for chemotherapy).

There has been furore regarding an elective radiographic exposure of an injured wrist of a veterinary assistant using the radiographic facilities in the veterinary practice. A single radiographic exposure of this type does not kill, however a kick from a horse to the veterinary surgeon’s head very well might. It seems farcical that such radiography prompted investigation by he authorities, yet catastrophic head injuries, or rather those received by vets it would seem, appear not to.

SO WHAT IS YOUR RATIONALE FOR NOT OBSERVING HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK? WHY ARE YOU AND ANY PERSONS IN THE VICINITY NOT WEARING A HARD HAT WHEN AROUND HORSES?

Show courage. Set an example.

Maintain and promote the respect that veterinary surgeons deserve.

Think ahead: Wear a hard hat around horses

Photo courtesy of Redwings Horse Sanctuary

#veterinarysurgeon #workplace #headinjury #safety #vetsafety

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