Preventing the Risk of Scalpel Injuries to Livestock Handlers
Livestock handlers undertake surgical castration with scalpels to remove testicles from male animals such as cows or swine. Livestock handlers are often exposed to occupational health risks of scalpel cuts and injuries during castration procedures. As sharps injuries have been observed in veterinarian practices associated with large animals, it is important for livestock handlers to understand the risks involved in handling scalpels to prevent cuts and injuries (1).
What are the consequences of scalpel injuries to livestock handlers?
Scalpel cuts can cause:
- severed digital nerve and/ or tendon,
- psychological distress and/ or trauma,
- delayed procedures and loss of productivity, and
- blood-borne zoonotic pathogens (2).
In the worst-case situation, livestock handlers may be under the risk of a surgery and costly rehabilitation for a blood-borne zoonotic pathogen that may naturally be transmissible from animals to people and impact on human health such as Q Fever and Mediterranean Fever (Brucellosis).
In Australia, Q fever is one of the most common zoonotic diseases, with as high as 200 per 100,000 people affected each year (3). Although deaths are rare, people with Q Fever often suffer from prolonged fatigue, which may prevent them from working for the rest of their lives. Mediterranean Fever (Brucellosis) is another widespread disease in Australia and the United States. Weakness, fatigue, and mental depression are often observed in people who have been infected, and recovery can take up to 12 months (4).
The costs associated with scalpel injuries can be significant, especially if surgery is needed. At the minimum, an uncomplicated scalpel cut can require visiting the doctor’s clinic and follow-up tests. In addition, indirect costs such as loss of productivity from time off work and consultation for psychological distress may add to the burden of livestock handlers.
Where can scalpels injuries occur to livestock handlers?
To effectively manage the risks and reduce the costs, it is crucial to examine where scalpel injuries are most likely to occur. Scalpel injuries may occur to livestock handlers anytime throughout the surgical castration procedure, not only when they are making an incision, but also when they are removing scalpel blades, cleaning up the tools, or switching instruments.
How to reduce the risks?
To manage and prevent the occupational risks of scalpel injuries, livestock handlers should consider developing and implementing a combination of controls, following the guidelines stated by Queensland Health as follows (5):
An effective sharps safety program includes three core elements which should be implemented simultaneously:
- engineering controls, such as:
- use of sharps disposal systems that conform to Australian Standards (AS4031 or AS/NZS 4261)
- sharps removal systems (e.g. scalpel blade removers)
- work practice controls, such as:
- availability of point of use sharps containers
- establishing a responsibility practice – the person who generates the sharp is responsible for the safe disposal of the sharp
- training, including:
- on induction and annual education as it should not be assumed that new staff are familiar with specific devices used or policies and procedures related to sharps safety
- introduction of a new device
In the US, OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standard requires the implementation of an exposure control plan to use engineering and work practice controls, personal protective clothing and equipment, and employee training to minimise the risks of scalpel hazards (6).
It is worth notice that in addition to having training and work practice controls in place, both Queensland Health and OSHA recommend using engineering controls and safety medical devices such as a sharps removal system like the Qlicksmart BladeFLASK scalpel blade remover, to reduce the risks of occupational exposures to scalpel cuts.
Using Qlicksmart’s safety-engineered scalpel blade remover
Using the Qlicksmart BladeFLASK single-handed scalpel blade remover, livestock handlers can quickly and safely remove, contain, and dispose of scalpel blades and reduce the risks of having a scalpel cut or injury when conducting castration.
The Qlicksmart BladeFLASK is a safety-engineered device that:
- Removes up to 100 used scalpel blades
- Removes and contains your scalpel blades using only one hand
- Is puncture-proof sharps container
- Can be attached to a wall, bench, or calf cradle with the reusable Mounting Bracket
To find out more on how to keep safe from scalpel cuts, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lucas, M., Day, L., Shirangi, A., & Fritschi, L. (2009). Significant injuries in Australian veterinarians and use of safety precautions. Occupational Medicine, 59(5), 327-333. doi:10.1093/occmed/kqp070
- Khillare, R. & Bhave, S. (2018). Occupational Hazards Associated with Veterinarians and Their Control Measures. Journal of Foodborne and Zoonotic Diseases, 6(2), 13-17. http://www.jakraya.com/journal/pdf/16-jfzdArticle_4.pdf
- Business Queensland. (2016). Q fever. https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/pests-diseases-disorders/q-fever
- Business Queensland. (2016). Brucellosis. https://www.business.qld.gov.au/industries/farms-fishing-forestry/agriculture/livestock/animal-welfare/pests-diseases-disorders/brucellosis
- Queensland Health. (2017). Developing a sharps safety program. https://www.health.qld.gov.au/clinical-practice/guidelines-procedures/diseases-infection/infection-prevention/standard-precautions/sharps-safety/sharp-safety-program
- (n.d.). Bloodborne Pathogens and Needlestick Prevention. https://www.osha.gov/bloodborne-pathogens