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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Introduction to Toxicologic Hazards in the Workplace

By Rhian B. Cope, BVSC, PhD, DABT, ERT, FACTRA, Toxicology Section, Office of Scientific Evaluation, Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia

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Veterinarians are potentially exposed to myriad potent pharmaceuticals and other hazardous materials as part of their work environment, and particularly during patient decontamination procedures (most notably dermal decontamination). Therefore, knowledge of important toxicologic workplace hazards and basic personal protective equipment (PPE) is important. It is critical to recognize that PPE is the “last line of defense” and not a panacea for toxicologic hazards. The overarching principle is to avoid exposure if at all possible. Over-reliance on inadequately fitted or inappropriate types of PPE continues to be a substantial cause of human casualties because of the feeling of overconfidence these devices can provide. In particular, respirators should be selected, fitted, and tested by persons qualified to do this.

The following general PPE principles apply: The general minimum assumed PPE is long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, socks, closed footwear, and eye protection. Gloves with appropriate chemical resistance characteristics for a given situation should be used; gloves should be changed regularly, and double gloving done if necessary. If there is any risk of significant inhalation and eye exposure, a properly fitted full-face respirator and appropriate filters/cartridges should be used. If there is any doubt regarding air quality, it should be tested before entry into a potentially contaminated space (particularly if it is a potentially contaminated closed space). Anyone entering into a confined space should be able to be extracted/rescued without others needing to enter the space. If there is any question regarding the safety of the work environment, one should not work alone. Appropriate antidote kits (eg, cyanide antidote kit) should be readily available if relevant to the situation. Relevant human exposure guidelines and limits are set by local regulatory agencies.

Although this chapter is not meant to be a comprehensive discussion of every possible toxicologic workplace hazard faced by veterinarians, some common, important, and potentially lethal agents known to have caused injuries and fatalities to veterinarians are briefly discussed.