Keeping Veterinary Employees from Radiation Exposure

As owners demand more sophisticated medical care for their pets, veterinarians need to offer a wide array of diagnostic tests and advanced procedures. Many of these procedures, including X-rays, CT scans and fluoroscopy, require the use of radiation to produce diagnostic images. Unfortunately, most animals are unlikely to remain still during these medical procedures. Because animals must be restrained for these tests, veterinary staff members can be exposed to significant amounts of radiation in the course of their jobs. To protect employees from hazardous exposure, veterinary practices use radiation monitoring methods and safety equipment such as lead aprons, gloves and thyroid shields to protect employees from radiation exposure.

Large doses of radiation will make a person very ill, and even small doses can alter DNA, increasing the risk of cancer. For most human and animal patients, the risk is small, but for workers who are exposed to X-rays on a daily basis, it is significant. Fortunately, there are methods that can minimize risks to veterinary employees. The best means of protection is to limit exposure whenever possible and to ensure that no individual is exposed to excessive radiation. In addition, employees who must restrain animals during radiographic procedures need to use protective lead equipment which blocks X-rays.

To minimize heath risks, all staff members who must restrain animals for radiographic procedures need to use film badges that measure radiation exposure and wear lead aprons, thyroid shields and gloves. The lead items protect at risk areas such as the abdomen, which includes the especially vulnerable reproductive organs. Not only should all workers wear this apparel, they also need to be careful to keep the lead equipment between themselves and the X-ray tube to avoid exposing the unshielded areas of their bodies to danger. Even with this protection, veterinarians and technologists need to use the information provided by film badges to keep individual exposure within acceptable safety limits.

While the best way to avoid the dangers of radiation to veterinary staff is to eliminate exposure to X-rays, this is impractical in daily veterinary practice. Animals either need to be heavily sedated or anesthetized or be physically restrained when they undergo diagnostic procedures. Because it is neither safe nor practical to anesthetize every patient who needs X-rays, staff members will be exposed when they restrain patients. Because this carries serious health risks, it essential that employees limit X-ray exposure as much as possible and consistently use protective measures, including lead aprons, when they must restrain animals for radiography.

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