Denver, CO (WorkersCompensation.com) - Many Coloradans remember the horrifying incident when a dog bit a local anchor live, on-air. That frightening attack illustrates the real potential for employees to encounter an animal at work, no matter their occupation — which is why every employer should address animal hazards in their workplace safety program.
What Pinnacol's workers' compensation claims reveal
To learn more about the threats that animals might pose to employees, Pinnacol Assurance, Colorado's largest workers' compensation carrier, recently analyzed past claims and found that bites and scratches — the most common animal-related injuries — account for about 800 worker injuries per year. While most injuries were minor, some were more severe, leading to facial or eye trauma as well as infections. Although the majority of the injuries occur in professions in which animal handling is part of the job, such as in animal shelters or veterinary clinics, there are a number of scenarios where employees might inadvertently be exposed to an animal, for example:
A home health aide who has a client with an aggressive cat.
An employee in a pet-friendly workplace, where one of the pets is less than “friendly.”
A property manager who enters an apartment that is guarded by a territorial dog.
A salesperson meeting with a client at the client's pet-friendly workplace or a pet-friendly coffee shop.
A chauffeur who picks up a client with a frightened dog in tow.
Why training matters While work that revolves around animals should include intensive safety-related training, for employees who may encounter animals at all, employers should cover the basics during workplace safety training.
Pinnacol's claims analysis revealed that, as with other workers' compensation injuries, workers who had been on the job for less than six months were most at risk, accounting for 33% of all animal-related incidents. For this reason, it's important that animal safety training take place early in an employee's tenure with his or her company.
“While interacting with animals can be a positive experience for employees, including animal safety in your workplace training can prevent unexpected issues, keep workers from harm and reduce workers' compensation claims,” said Ellen Sarvay, Pinnacol Safety Consultant.
Here are three tips from Pinnacol safety experts for raising awareness of the importance of animal safety to prevent injury at work:
Introduce general precautions as part of your onboarding process
Given that any worker could someday interact with an animal during the course of the workday, it's wise to share some best practices as part of your workplace safety training. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Remember that all animals, even the most seemingly docile of pets, can be unpredictable. Proceed with caution.
If your workplace is pet-friendly, ensure that a policy is in place to minimize the presence of aggressive or nervous furry friends.
Always ask the pet's owner before petting the animal.
Request that a client restrict pets to another room before you enter a home.
Wear proper protective clothing, such as closed-toe shoes, proper eyewear, and clothing that covers arms and legs.
Don't startle an animal by approaching it suddenly.
Use extra precautions around horses, cattle and other farm animals — and, if these types of encounters are likely to be common, distribute an animal safety fact sheet to provide more in-depth information to your team.
Hold occasional supplemental trainings
It's easy for workers to forget best practices if they don't routinely face animals. Employers should consider a short “refresher course” as part of ongoing workplace safety to continue to reinforce smart animal safety. A safety training roster can track which employees have received this training and which employees still need it.
Encourage employees to share animal-related information
If you have multiple employees visiting a certain job site where there have been animal encounters in the past, create a process that allows them to report the location of the animal and any relevant observations about the animal's demeanor or behavior.