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Select Occupational Hazards in Veterinary Medicine and Minimization Strategies


John D. Gibbins

, DVM, DACVPM, Agricultural Safety, National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;

Kathleen L. MacMahon

, DVM, MS, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Reviewed/Revised Dec 2022 | Modified Jun 2023

Animal Handling in Veterinary Medicine

Kicking and Crushing Injuries

Working with animals, especially large animals and wildlife, poses risks from animal kicks and crushing injuries. Proper design of facilities to handle production animals and proper worker training can minimize injuries to both animals and workers. Employees and volunteers should be allowed to work with only those animal species they have been specifically trained to handle.

For more information, see:

Animal Bites and Scratches

The keys to preventing animal bites and scratches in veterinary settings are employee training and use of appropriate restraint techniques. Staff should be trained in restraining all species of animals they handle. Humane restraint practices using principles of minimizing patient fear and low-stress handling that consider animal behavior are preferred. Appropriate means of restraint—physical (eg, muzzles, towels, or chutes); chemical (eg, sedatives or tranquilizers), and behavioral—should be used for fractious or aggressive animals. Clients should not be permitted to restrain their own animals.

Bite and scratch wounds should immediately be washed with soap and water and medically evaluated, given the risks of infection, musculoskeletal complications, and possible rabies Rabies in Animals Rabies is an acute, progressive encephalomyelitis caused by lyssaviruses. This zoonosis occurs worldwide in mammals, with dogs, bats, and wild carnivores as the principal reservoirs. Typical... read more Rabies in Animals exposure. For more information, see Human and Mammal Bites.

For more information about bite prevention, see:

For more information about rabies, see

Ergonomics in Veterinary Medicine

Musculoskeletal disorders are common among workers in veterinary settings. Soft-tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders result from sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, or awkward posture. They can result in physical pain and job restrictions as well as economic hardship for both employees and practice owners. An evaluation of ergonomics should be part of the workplace-specific hazard assessment by the employer.

For more information, see:

Slips, Trips, and Falls in Veterinary Medicine

Slips, trips, and falls are among the most common causes of occupational injuries in veterinary settings. Wet floors, spills, weather hazards, uneven walking surfaces, and cluttered floors are hazards that affect everyone in the workplace, including management, veterinary staff, and clients. Employees and employers should be trained to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions.

For more information, see:

Motor Vehicle Hazards in Veterinary Medicine

Transportation-related workplace fatalities are the number one cause of workplace deaths in the US. 1 References Working with animals, especially large animals and wildlife, poses risks from animal kicks and crushing injuries. Proper design of facilities to handle production animals and proper worker training... read more Veterinarians and staff who operate mobile clinics and make calls at homes, farms, and ranches may be at increased risk because of poor road conditions, fatigue, and the number of miles driven annually. Employers should ensure that staff members have valid state licenses for the types of vehicles they are driving and that all parts of the vehicles, including seat belts, lights, signals, wipers, tires, brakes, and a backup alarm if needed, are in safe working order.

For more information, see:


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Nonfatal and fatal work-related transportation incidents in 2019 and 2020 at (visited November 07, 2022).

Noise Hazards in Veterinary Medicine

Sources of noise in veterinary settings that may be above recommended levels include barking dogs in kennels and animal shelters, loud equipment such as cage dryers or clippers used by groomers, and working with swine and around farm equipment. Noisy areas should be evaluated to determine whether employees are exposed to hazardous levels of noise as defined by regulatory agencies like OSHA. Excessive noise has also been shown to cause stress in animals. If engineering controls cannot decrease noise to appropriate levels, employees should be enrolled in a hearing conservation program.

For more information, see:

Ionizing Radiation and Radiation Safety in Veterinary Medicine

Written protocols for radiation safety are a critical component of a comprehensive safety and health program for staff in veterinary settings. Radiation areas should be clearly identified with signage, and all equipment should be regularly maintained. Pregnant women should not be directly involved with taking radiographic images. Risks can be decreased by minimizing the duration and amount of exposure, maximizing the distance from the radiation source (eg, by using nonmanual restraints), and using protective barriers and protective garments. All staff involved in taking radiographic images should be monitored for radiation exposure using personal dosimetry. In the US, radiation safety is regulated by OSHA and some states.

Additional training on the safe operation, PPE, and management of radioactive isotopes and therapeutics may be needed in veterinary facilities that offer magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear medicine, and radiation Radiography of Animals Radiography (generation of transmission planar images) is one of the most commonly used diagnostic tools in veterinary practice even though other imaging modalities such as ultrasonography,... read more Radiography of Animals and radioisotope treatment. Regulatory agencies typically have stringent training and documentation and reporting requirements and should be consulted if these procedures are offered.

For more information, see:

Hazards Associated With Use of Medical Lasers in Veterinary Medicine

Lasers Photomedicine in Veterinary Patients The term "laser" originated as an acronym that describes its process, ie, light amplification of stimulated emission of radiation. Like acupuncture and massage, laser therapy may reduce pain... read more are used in veterinary medicine to manage patient pain and inflammation and to promote healing. Lasers can also be used to cut and cauterize tissues during surgery. Potential hazards to both workers and patients include thermal skin damage and retinal damage if the lasers are used improperly and personal protective equipment (PPE) is not worn. Standards established by OSHA, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and others contain guidelines for the safe use of lasers in veterinary practice and research. Employers should provide training in the equipment being used and provide controls, including appropriate PPE, to minimize exposures.

For more information, see:

Needlestick Injuries in Veterinary Medicine

Needlestick injuries (also called sharps injuries) may result in lacerations or other traumatic wounds. Chemical and biological materials may be introduced through needlestick injuries. Veterinary staff should be trained in the proper use and disposal of needles and in what to do if an exposure occurs. Approved sharps containers should be clearly labeled and used for disposal. Needles should not be recapped before disposal. The AVMA recommends voluntary compliance with OSHA's bloodborne pathogens standard.

For more information, see:

Physiologic Stressors in Veterinary Medicine

Evaluating and improving mental health and well-being is essential for all personnel in veterinary settings. Psychological stressors for veterinarians and staff include high student debt, performing and assisting with euthanasia, compassion fatigue, long work hours, and sleep deprivation. Managing a healthy work-life balance is challenging with jobs that include long work hours and emergency duty/on-call. The stressors and hazards of operating a business—including dealing with difficult personnel and clients, workplace violence such as assault and robbery, and cyberbullying—also impact mental health and well-being. See the AVMA's article Self-care for Veterinarians.

Veterinarians have a higher suicide risk compared with the general population. Suicide prevention activities should be aimed at both veterinarians and veterinary staff. See the CDC's NIOSH Science Blog post Suicide Risk for Veterinarians and Veterinary Technicians.

Resources to help manage stress and improve well-being are available at:

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