Alleviating Four-Legged Problems

Equine Vet Examining Horse

Picture source:



EQUINE VETERINARIANS OR “HORSE doctor” are exposed to physically strenuous work task on daily basis, which can cause bodily injury.  The most common injuries are work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) due to cumulative micro-trauma. Recent studies in Applied Ergonomics have quantified this problem, revealing  that  100 percent of surveyed equine veterinarians reported suffering from musculoskeletal discomfort within a 12month period.

While previous studies have surveyed veterinarians to identify what they believe are leading factors in injuries. This study sought to identify potential risk factors for work-related musculoskeletal disorders in large animal operations, to quantify the extent of veterinarian’s exposure and recommend control measures. These objectives were met by following a procedure that involved analyzing typical veterinary task for treating large animals; screening veterinary jobs for ergonomics-related risk factors associated with WMSDs in other domains using both qualitative methods; identifying ergonomics guide-line violations in current task designs; and recommending ergonomic interventions to improve veterinary task safety.

The recommendation were organized in terms of interventions at the horse, interventions in the “path ” between the horse and the veterinarian (i.e., how the veterinarian interacts with the animal) and interventions at the source of the procedure (i.e., the veterinarian). The interventions were classified further based on the type of control to be applied, including engineering controls, or modifications to the design of the system; administrative controls, or modifications to the work process; and personal protective equipment (PPE) to be worn by the veterinarian.

Lameness exams. To help cut the amount of time spent in a sustained awkward posture, an engineering control in the form of a hoof jack could be used to lift the horse’s leg. This intervention may have limited usefulness if the lameness exam requires flexing the fetlock joint versus just holding the horse’s leg passively in the air.

Lifting. Recommendations for lifting interventions involve engineering controls in the form of buckets with larger diameter handles or two handles. Administrative controls such as filling buckets with water at the destination instead of carrying a full bucket or using a two person lift when performing heavy lifting and carrying tasks should be adopted.

Ultrasound. Engineering controls for ultrasound procedures should be put in place to raise the animal when performing ultrasounds underneath the body or to the lower extremities. The horse could be place in lifted stocks or on a raised platform during these tasks. If raising the animal is not possible, administrative controls should be applied, such as requiring veterinarians to sit on a stool (lower the body) or assume a kneeling posture with the aid of knee pads. However kneeling during the ultrasounds limits the veterinarian’s ability to move away from the animal quickly to avoid being kicked.

Based on review of previous research and result in the area of musculoskeletal disorders among veterinarians, it can be seen that such injuries are extremely prevalent, and they have a major impact on private practice operations as well as the careers of individual veterinarians.

The full version of the article is available in IIE Laboratory. It is also readable online for IIE member through accessing the website. Contact Maya (President of IIE BINUS University Chapter) at for more information on the IIE membership.