Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Milos Nedved

Second Advisor

Professor Andrew Thompson


This thesis contains reviews and research on the occupational hazards of zoo veterinary practitioners in Australia. Although occupational hazards have long been recognised in the veterinary profession, little information is available on the number and magnitude of injuries to veterinarians in Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States. Apart from anecdotal accounts and some limited data, most of the available information is on occupational zoonoses, generally well recognized by veterinarians. Other occupational hazards to which veterinarians are exposed have received scant attention. The veterinary practitioner in a zoo environment has to treat a range of captive wild species which are much more unpredictable and dangerous than domesticated animals. A comprehensive study on occupational hazards sustained by veterinarians in zoological gardens has not been undertaken in Australia. Only one study had been undertaken in the US amongst zoo veterinarians, while comprehensive may not be able to be transposed to zoos in Australia as the species held in Australian zoos differ from those in the US. Personal communication with some senior veterinarians in the zoological gardens in Australia, have elicited further information on the prevalence of occupational hazards sustained by the zoo and wildlife park veterinarians. The prevalence of physical hazards including radiation, chemical and biological hazards reported by veterinary practitioners and the author's own experience as a veterinary practitioner, chairman of the safety committee, member of the animal ethics committee and manager, research In the zoological gardens in Perth, Western Australia have demonstrated a need for a comprehensive study on occupational hazards prevalent among zoo veterinarians. To investigate the occupational hazards including radiological hazards amongst zoo veterinarians in Australia, a self-administered 14-page comprehensive questionnaire comprising 58 questions was mailed to 27 practising zoo veterinarians in Australia. The questionnaire focused on physical injuries, chemical exposures, allergic and irritant reactions, biological exposures, radiological hazards including problems encountered with x-ray machines, use of protective gear and ancillary equipment for radiography, personnel involved in x-ray procedures and in restraining animals, compliance with the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Code of Practice (1982), Radiation Safety Regulations (1988) and National Standard for Limiting Occupational Exposure to Ionising Radiation (1995) The result of the study revealed that 60% of the participants sustained physical injuries such as crushes, bites and scratches inflicted by a range of species with some Injuries requiring medical treatment. Also, 50% of the participants suffered from back injuries while 15% reported fractures, kicks, bites necessitating hospitalization. Ninety percent of the participants sustained needlestick injuries ranging from one to 16+ times. Other significant findings include: necropsy injuries, animal allergies, formaldehyde exposure, musculoskeletal Injuries and zoonotic infections. The survey also identified that veterinary practitioners and their staff were exposed to radiation by not complying with the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Ionising Radiation (1982) which has been framed to minimize exposure to ionising radiation. The majority of the veterinarians in the study group indicated that radiation exposure Is a major occupational hazard to the veterinary profession. Subsequent to the review and research, discussions were held with few senior zoo veterinarians, the Registrar of the Veterinary Surgeons Board and a number of practising senior veterinarians In Australia to collect information on occupational hazards. Additional information was obtained on occupational injuries sustained by the zoo veterinarians through formal discussions with the Director and the two senior veterinarians In the zoological gardens in Sri Lanka. The discussions with the veterinary practitioners in government and private practice revealed that veterinarians experienced a range of occupational hazards including exposure to rabies. Discussions with the dean and the professor of the animal science department focused on the nature of injuries and preventive strategies. In order to obtain information on occupational hazards in the health care industry, the professor of anatomy of the faculty of medicine and a senior surgeon in Sri Lanka were interviewed. This study identified that the zoo veterinarians are routinely exposed to a wide range of occupational hazards. The literature review among veterinary practitioners In US, UK, Australia and Canada have also identified numerous occupational hazards sustained by the veterinarians. The discussions held in Sri Lanka with the professionals in veterinary and health care industry showed that occupational injuries have been common amongst them and they do not have appropriate preventive guidelines in place. This thesis has incorporated recommendations in the form of preventive strategies for minimizing occupational hazards among veterinary practitioners both in zoological gardens and veterinary practices In Australia and in the developed and developing countries.