The importance of assessing risks in the workplace... - Veterinary Practice
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The importance of assessing risks in the workplace…

George Roberts examines the issue of health and safety in veterinary practices and why it’s essential to view all the risks from everyone’s point of view.

who see it as even
more red tape preventing them
from running
their business
in the way they

In truth,
health and
safety has been
used unfairly as
a scapegoat by businesses for many
years. The aim of health and safety
regulation has never been to restrict working practices, but instead to ensure
that all risks are accounted for and
kept to an acceptable level. Essentially,
doing the job in the right way, safely.

the risks

The Health
and Safety
estimates that
one in every
two injuries at work is caused as a result of either
a slip, trip or fall or by the handling,
lifting or carrying of objects. The HSE
(in a 2013 document, Farmwise) also
reckons that one person a week dies
from agriculturally-linked work.

It is not enough for practices to
concentrate all their efforts on specific
risks; instead they are required to
evaluate the particular risks associated
with their own practice and put
adequate control measures in place to
minimise those risks.

The most common way of assessing
the health and safety risks to your
practice is by way of a formal risk
assessment. There is no prescribed
format for a risk assessment but
generally the process has a number of

Firstly, you need to create a list of all
the identifiable hazards in your practice
– anything which may cause harm,
such as chemicals, electricity, working
at height and especially for vets that
visit farms, moving vehicles.

To do this you should think about
the following: slip and trip hazards and
general housekeeping such as loose
leads and misaligned flooring, etc.;
manual handling risks including how
heavy items such as large animals and
equipment, etc., are moved; the use and
storage of hazardous substances that
involve (say) drugs and chemicals, etc.;
the use of machinery, any list of which
could comprise x-ray machines, rehab
treadmills and lighting systems, etc.; the
use of portable electrical equipment
including ultrasound and sterilisers,
etc.; working from height meaning the
use of ladders and access to storage
areas, etc.; and vehicle movements such
as vans, client parking and pedestrian
walkways, etc.

Next you need to identify who is at
risk and why. For example, employees
who risk injuries or back pain from
handling heavy/bulky objects or
clients who may slip on paths. After
that you need to set out what steps
you are already taking to address the
risks identified.

From here the next stage is to
ask yourself whether you could be
doing anything else to control that
risk such as more frequent checks of
machinery, handrails fitted to raised
storage areas, employee training;
and if you can take further steps to
control the risk, identify who in the
practice is responsible for doing so
and set a date as to when it must be
completed by.

The completed risk assessment
must be kept under frequent review. It
should be date-stamped and reviewed
at least once every year. However, in
certain circumstances it should be
looked at more frequently.

A good example of this is following
an accident, where an employee
suggests an improvement, or where
working practices have changed –
possibly when new machinery has
been purchased or new operating
procedures have been introduced.

A risk assessment which is properly
implemented and accurately records
the perceived hazards and risks of
a practice will take it some way to compliance with health and safety laws
in the UK.

The cost of getting it wrong

If you fail to take all reasonably
practicable steps to ensure the safety
of your employees, clients and others
who are affected by your practice, it’s
quite likely that you may face criminal prosecution.
In some cases
a prosecution
may also be
brought against
or directors
where it can
be shown that
they were specifically at fault for a
breach of the law.

Fines for health and safety offences
are generally “unlimited” and
consequently any criminal conviction
is likely to result in significant fines
(and the potential for imprisonment of

Additionally, unless covered by
your insurance, the practice may have
to pay for its own legal costs and (if
convicted) the legal costs incurred by
the prosecution.

So consider the October 2014
case of a Bedfordshire veterinary practice – Davies Veterinary Specialists
Limited – that was ned after
workers were potentially exposed to
harmful substances found in animal
chemotherapy drugs prepared at the
veterinary practice over a four-year
period. The practice pleaded guilty to
breaching Section 2(1) of the Health
and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and was ned
£35,000 and
ordered to pay
£50,378 in

any conviction
will also have
a knock-on
effect on your

All health and safety convictions are
recorded on a central database and
searchable by members of the public.

Following an accident or incident
you may also have to deal with civil
claims brought against the practice by individuals who have been injured.
Usually, your insurance policy will
cover you for these types of claims
but you should check your policy
carefully to ensure that you have ample

Dealing with civil claims from
your own employees as well as hurt
customers can be very emotive, time-
consuming and costly. You should also
expect your insurance policy renewal to
increase following a health and safety

Finally, the most obvious
consequence of getting it wrong is
that you or your employees will be
exposed to the risk of injury. In some
circumstances, exposure to risk can
result in serious injury and even death.

In the year April 2014 to March
2015, 142 workers went to work and
never returned home. Thankfully,
deaths are a rare occurrence but that figure re-iterates the importance of
managing health and safety risks so
that you and your business can avoid
the ultimate cost of getting it wrong.

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