Staff highlights – Health and safety in the veterinary workplace

Margaret Stalker

Animal Health Laboratory, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON

AHL Newsletter 2021;25(1):7.

Recent health and safety protocols in all our workplaces have necessarily been tightly focused on reducing the risk of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19.  However, this is also a good time to reflect and remember that these measures are part of the larger picture of occupational health and safety in the veterinary workplace.

Health and safety regulations and practices are designed to protect the well-being of all workers, including veterinary practice owners and managers, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, hospital staff, as well as clients and patients.  These practices form an important part of everyday work life. The Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act set out the rights and responsibilities of workplace employees and employers in Ontario workplaces, and workplaces are bound by law to follow the regulations outlined by these acts, as applicable.  Other acts such as the Environmental Protection Act also regulate some activities in veterinary practices.

Some examples of these responsibilities include:

  • Providing and documenting training of all clinic workers in basic occupational health and safety awareness, including information about workplace-specific hazards and providing WHMIS training.  In the veterinary practice context, such workplace hazards may include potential exposure to infectious microorganisms, hazardous chemicals and pharmaceuticals, compressed gases, physical and ergonomic risks involved in animal handling and restraint, exposure to ionizing radiation, and hazards from various specialized equipment and sharps.
  • Providing first aid equipment, facilities and trained personnel.
  • Assigning a health and safety representative (in workplaces with between 5-19 workers) or creating a Joint Health and Safety Committee of at least one worker and one management member (in workplaces with 20 or more workers).
  • In workplaces with a Joint Health and Safety Committee, ensuring proper certification training of at least one worker and one management representative.  The primary role of the representative/committee is to regularly inspect the workplace, identify potential health and safety issues and bring them to the attention of the employer.  Committees with certified members are required to meet every three months to discuss health and safety in the workplace.
  • Providing a clinic health and safety bulletin board, displaying at a minimum:
    • a copy of the Ontario Health and Safety Act.
    • a copy of the Ontario Ministry of Labour (MOL) poster, “Health & Safety at Work: Prevention Starts Here”.
    • a list identifying the health and safety representative/committee members
    • in workplaces with more than 5 regularly employed workers, the workplace health and safety policy, workplace violence policy and workplace harassment policy.  More details and examples of these are available on the MOL website.
    • a copy of the  Joint Health and Safety Committee meeting minutes.
  • Ensuring proper hazardous waste registration and disposal.
  • Registration of radiology equipment with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, training of workers in radiation safety, and training a designated staff member as the clinic radiation safety officer.

While this list is not exhaustive, several excellent resources are available online, including the online Health and Safety portion of the OVMA website, the Ontario Ministry of Labour website, and the WSIB.

Here’s to making safe practice a long-term priority!   AHL


1. OVMA website: Health and Safety

2. Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development

3. WSIB Ontario

4. Deimling B, Safety is no accident. OVMA Focus Magazine, May/June 2019, pp 22-23.