Employees are the backbone of veterinary practices. Despite proper training and the best precautions, however, accidents and injuries are inevitable in the veterinary world. From difficult-to-handle dogs and cats to high-spirited horses and unruly cows, veterinary employees – and volunteers – are at high risk for accidents and injuries.
That’s why the AVMA Trust is sharing six ways to help prevent accidents and injuries at your veterinary practice. Before we jump ahead, we want to make sure you fully understand how workers’ compensation protects a practice as well as its employees.
The What and Why of Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation coverage fairly compensates employees for injuries suffered while on the job, and the number of workplace injuries is staggering. The National Safety Council estimates that in 2019 the United States experienced 48.3 million workplace injuries.
But too often, veterinary practice owners consider workers’ compensation as protection for their employees only, a necessary evil. They forget that a workers’ compensation policy provides essential financial protection for the practice itself.
Workers’ compensation protects the practice from severe financial hardship in the event that an employee is injured on the job. Most people think of workers’ compensation as a benefit to employees who are injured on the job. While that is true, by accepting the financial and/or medical benefits provided through a workers’ compensation claim, an employee waives their right to sue their employer for negligence, thus protecting the practice from financial harm.
It’s important to consider both the direct and indirect costs of workers’ compensation claims:
Direct costs are the obvious expenses an employer would be required to pay due to a workers’ compensation claim: increases in premium due to paid losses and any other expenses incurred due to the accident or injury. Each workers’ compensation claim filed costs veterinary practices on average nearly $3,000.
Indirect or “soft” costs are the not-so-obvious effects of a workers’ compensation claim. For example, if an employee misses work due to injury, the practice may need to hire someone to fill in for the injured employee, or other employees may need cover more shifts and receive overtime pay. The practice owners and staff also may experience physical and mental stress after the accident or injury. The emotional toll can be severe and very real.
Client relationships matter for veterinary practices. AVMA Trust insurance carriers will not typically seek reimbursement from a client whose animal injures a practice employee. Although it is a carrier’s legal right to try to recoup losses, the AVMA Trust understands that maintaining client relationships and goodwill are crucial to the veterinary profession. By prioritizing client relationship management, the AVMA Trust puts the practice first.
In some cases, veterinary practices can save time and reduce paperwork errors with access to an innovative premium billing solution that automates workers’ compensation premium calculation and payment when the practice runs payroll.
Ensuring your practice is protected with a worker’s compensation policy is as critical as protecting yourself with a professional liability policy. Now, armed with a better understanding of the coverage, take a few moments to learn how to prevent accidents at your practice:
6 Ways to Prevent Accidents and Injuries at Your Practice
1. Observe and Document BehaviorStep one is to implement a behavior observation process at your practice. In this process, team members observe each other, gather data points on safe and unsafe behaviors or situations, and coach each other on how to perform tasks more safely. Observations might include lifting techniques, slip or trip hazards in the workplace, patient handling, or use of personal protective equipment. A behavior observation process requires acceptance of the desired behaviors to be implemented. For a high level of engagement, involve the entire team in defining and measuring critical behaviors. To identify these behaviors, use an observation checklist card.
2. Create a Process and Follow it ConsistentlyTwo key elements of the behavior change process are: 1) observing positive behaviors and 2) measuring progress. Perform observations routinely and consistently; failure to do so will destroy the process. Use the data from your team’s observation checklists to track safe and unsafe behaviors. Create a spreadsheet or database to identify the most frequent unsafe behaviors and to analyze progressive improvements.
3. Train for Safe Behaviors – Start Small Then Build MomentumSelect a small number of key behaviors with your team to evaluate initially. Train the team on those few key desirable behaviors and follow through until the team succeeds. If your initial goals for the number of observations are too aggressive, the behavior change process may fail and derail safety goals. If the behaviors noted on your observation card are too lengthy, the employee may omit the assessment or rush just to comply with an administrative request.
4. Provide Feedback on PerformanceDuring an observation process, the veterinary team should:
- Observe each other in a constructive environment
- Assess work practices collectively
- Reflect on how to improve personal safety behavior
- Focus on behavior achievements
- Maintain a positive outlook
- Deliver feedback in a positive manner
- Provide feedback consistently
5. Celebrate Your SuccessesCreating a safe workplace is a long-term and continuous improvement process. To help stay focused, identify critical milestones such as 100 observations or a 20% reduction of at-risk behaviors. As the team passes milestones, celebrate with a lunch or small gift of appreciation. Keep the team energized and feeling proud about achievements. Celebrations also provide an avenue for positive reinforcement, which is a driving force in the success of behavior safety.
6. Audit Key Behavior Process ActivitiesNew initiatives can start with a high level of effort and then just fade away. To keep the initiative going strong, periodically audit critical activities. Ask questions such as:
- Are behavior observations completed as scheduled?
- Is feedback presented to the team on a timely basis?
- Are results improving, or are at risk behaviors trending upward?