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Keeping a good head on your shoulders

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A RECENT survey by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has found that being an equine vet is the most dangerous civilian occupation – worse than being a fireman or in the HM Prison Service (BEVA 2014). This made me start thinking about the amount of protective equipment that is practical and that I am willing to wear at work.

Coincidentally this year, the Kentucky Trauma Registry reported that 50 per cent of horse-related fatalities of riders were from incidents on the ground, rather than when riding. Given that wearing an appropriate safety helmet confers an 80 per cent increase in the chance of survival in the event of a head injury (Carmichael and others 2014), wearing a hard hat to examine equine patients and other large beasts seems like a no-brainer, if you'll excuse the pun.

Getting my staff to cooperate has been the biggest hurdle. There's been a lot of resistance: ‘It's hot and sweaty’, ‘It'll mess up my hair’, ‘I'll look silly’, ‘Clients will think I'm scared of their horse.’ The excuses came thick and fast, so we had a presentation about a local young show jumper who suffered a brain injury from a kick to the head while just turning out a horse. Her CT scans were uncomfortable to look at and her story was sobering considering she only survived because the horse wasn't shod.

I decided to lead by example and have been trialling all manner of silks and bobble hats on skull caps, work-rider like, beside my regular riding hat, and asking owners to wear their hat too.

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A breakthrough came during a discussion with our vet students, as they have been much more receptive. One had even been involved in a high-risk occupation before becoming a veterinary undergraduate and was very well versed in the concept of expecting to get home in one piece after a day at work. He's a good looking chap, so maybe he could end up being the pin-up boy that our profession needs to change attitudes.

I don't like to force my employees to wear a safety helmet but I do hope the next generation of young vets learn to routinely wear one, and that we oldies don't make them feel stupid. For the record, I am a fully paid-up member of the ‘Flat Hair Society’ whenever I go near a horse.

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