How to Design a Safe Office

Mark Crootof uses his 30 years of experience to lend advice on how to best design a veterinary office.

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Mark Crootof, DVM, has more than 30 years of practical veterinary experience and has brought his expertise to the business of consulting. With Strategic Veterinary Consulting of Asheville, N.C., Dr. Crootof walks veterinarians through all aspects of the veterinary business, from practice startup to expansion.

He says his clients often call on him for office planning to ensure a less hazardous work environment for staff, pet owners and patients alike. Crootof provides some basic tips to keep your practice accident-free.

Traffic Flow

Crootof says efficient traffic flow throughout the practice decreases injury. Many veterinary facilities segregate dog and cat waiting areas.

“Most separate cat owners from dog owners,” Crootof says. Separation keeps animals calmer and helps prevent biting and scratching behavior problems during examination. Crootof recommends using “entrance” doors for moving clients from waiting areas to exam rooms and using different “exit” doors for moving clients back out to the reception and bill-pay areas.

“Eliminate congestion by going in and out of different doors,” Crootof says. He explains that some facilities have even started cashing clients out in exam rooms to further reduce reception-area congestion. Less reception-area traffic significantly reduces the likelihood of animals interfacing with one another and ultimately keeps everyone safer.

“If you don’t have well-planned flow, the chance of injury is increased,” Crootof adds.

Poorly planned flow also increases stress levels among staff.

“The biggest problem in any professional office is stress,” Crootof says. “Anything that decreases stress is going to make work that much easier for everyone.”

Flooring

Choosing the right flooring for your facility is a matter of installing a nonslip surface that’s easy to clean. Crootof warns that some nonslip surfaces, because of their abrasive design, hold dirt. He recalls one New York client who was concerned about installing flooring that wouldn’t provide good traction.

“Because of the snow there, we were terrified that clients or staff would be slipping,” he says. “So we chose a ceramic tile with a slightly abrasive surface for extra grip. The downside is that the flooring held on to dirt.”

Crootof says finding the right balance comes down to common sense, budget and personal taste.

Lighting

Harsh office and exam room lighting is hard on human and animal eyes. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has guidelines on office lighting on its website.

Among the recommendations are window blinds, diffused lighting and glare filters attached to computer monitors to reduce eye strain. Crootof says dimmer switches should be installed in exam rooms as well. When staff and doctors need it, they can brighten a room, then dim it for nervous patients, like cats. He explains that darker lighting keeps patients calmer, so the chances of staff being bitten or scratched by frightened animals are decreased.

Wall Treatments

Crootof says the two most important wall considerations are to, when possible, design walls with rounded corners instead of sharp ones to reduce injuries among staff and clients, and to remember that easy-to-clean walls are more functional in any veterinary setting.

High-gloss or semi-gloss paint works well in hospitals and offices, as does vinyl or plastic wainscoting. If choosing wallpaper, look for heavy, durable and scrubbable vinyl designed specifically for commercial use.

“We think of wall coverings in terms of whether we can keep them aseptic,” Crootof says. “You need to be able to keep them clean.”

Crootof says when choosing wall treatments, consider noise reduction. Noise reduction keeps animals calmer, helps prevent hearing loss and keeps stress levels down in staff members.

“Use materials [in and on the walls] that will decrease the sound and vibrations,” he says. Wall insulation, heavy wall coverings and plastic wainscoting help cut noise.

In kenneling areas, look for soundproofing and noise-control products like Styrofoam. Also, make it mandatory that staff wear ear protection when working for extended periods in kenneling areas.

HVAC Systems

Maintain good air quality in your facility by installing and maintaining an efficient and quiet heating, ventilating and air conditioning system. Additionally, use waste-gas scavenging systems to suck out anesthetic and other harmful waste.

Ergonomic Workstations

While most staff members don’t have time to sit in one place for any extended period, ergonomic workstations in billing and reception areas minimize employee downtime due to repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The OSHA website  has guidelines on building ergonomic workstations, including a checklist to analyze existing workstations as well as a checklist to evaluate new purchases.

Training Programs

OSHA regulates some parts of veterinary medicine, including guidelines on sharps disposal and drug handling. At bigger hospitals, though, Crootof recommends that someone be put in charge of ensuring OSHA rules are followed. This person can also oversee basic office safety outside OSHA requirements and can teach employees how to properly restrain animals to minimize the likelihood of getting bitten or scratched.

With all the advancements in diagnostics and treatment, Crootof says pet owners have come to expect more services from their veterinarians.

“We have to build nicer and nicer facilities and take into consideration the staff, clients and pets” to meet that demand, he explains. He says safe and efficient design is all part of it.


Reducing On-the-Job Back Problems

Employee back injury is a job hazard in veterinary settings. To keep staff members healthier, Mark Crootof, DVM, of Strategic Veterinary Consulting of Asheville, N.C., says staff should avoid lifting heavy animals as much as possible.

Using electric lift tables for patients is a good way to start. He notes that while early electric designs were noisy, new improved models are efficient.

Another basic back-saving tip (and to keep staff members from falling off ladders) is to stack cages lower in kenneling areas. “Most hospitals have gone to stacking kennels two rows high rather than three,” Crootof says.

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