Health and Safety Implications of Having Dogs in the Workplace

Health and Safety Implications of Having Dogs in the Workplace

Until recently, bringing your four-legged, furry pal to work was unheard of. For the most part, it still is. However, some employers are exploring the benefits of allowing employees to bring their dogs to work. For dog lovers, it’s a dream come true. For those who dislike dogs, it’s a nuisance. And, for employers concerned with health and safety in the workplace, allowing dogs at work represents a massive grey area and a bit of a safety conundrum. For those of you reading this at work, with Fido at your feet, don’t worry! There are ways to make sure that having dogs at work doesn’t negatively impact health and safety.

The Benefits of Having Dog Days at Work

The impact on morale of having a cute dog in the workplace is usually quite noticeable. It is said to decrease stress. As well, dogs have a positive impact on employee interactions and socialization, because they create a common ground on which important connections can be built. Allowing workers to bring dogs to work can even increase productivity!

The Impact of Having Dogs at Work on Health and Safety: The Dog’s Breakfast

Some employers are exploring allowing employees to bring dogs to work as a way to strengthen their image, increase retention, and reduce stress. However, among employers who do not allow dogs at work, health and safety concerns were the most oft-cited reason. Below are some common health and safety concerns regarding having dogs in the workplace:

Distractions: While dogs are known to improve social interactions, they may instigate too many conversations, distracting workers from the task at hand. Employees may wander around to visit the dogs, spend too much time playing or engaging with them, or take multiple breaks to take their own or a coworker’s dog outside.

Sanitation Concerns: Dogs can be hairy, and most breeds shed. That means a lot of hair and dander around the office. Dogs are also prone to fleas and various canine illnesses, which may be transmitted to workers. And of course, the big one: while the majority of dogs are well-trained to do their business where and when appropriate, accidents do happen. In the event of an accidental misuse of the office rug, a biohazard would be created and have to be dealt with properly.

Allergies and Phobias: Who doesn’t love to share the office space with a coworker’s beloved black lab? Anyone with an allergy or a phobia, that’s who. Some people have allergies so severe, that even having the dog in another department that shares airflow can be problematic. As well, dog phobias need to be recognized and respected. Anyone with a severe phobia who has to deal with a dog at work is at risk for psychosocial hazards.

Slip, Trip, and Fall and Bite Hazards: All dogs are not created equal. Some are big, some are small, and some fall in-between. What they share is that when they’re lying at your feet, or in a high-traffic area, they become trip hazards. Trips and falls can cause serious injuries, and the dog may even be injured. Another serious hazard to humans to consider is biting. Even the best temperamental animal may bite if he feels threatened. A lot of people crowding around a dog that is not used to it may cause the dog to act out in ways that are not typical, including biting. Bites can be very serious because of both the trauma inflicted and the bacteria from the dog’s mouth that gets transferred to the wound.

Property Damage: Most dogs are very good boys! But sometimes, even good boys get into mischief. Unfortunately, it could result in property damage. Chewing, toileting, digging, clawing, or sometimes even excessive hair to clean up, are all taxing on the physical facility, and have the potential to cause damage. Repairs may be costly, and cleaning staff may add a surcharge for additional cleanup as required.

Liabilities: If your workplace serves the public, allowing dogs in the workplace opens the employer to many liabilities, especially if a dog injures a customer.

Every Dog Has its Day

If you want to explore the benefits of allowing employees to bring dogs to work, it is definitely possible to do so safely. Before making any major decisions, consider the nature of your workplace and whether it is appropriate for an animal. From there, consider a policy for bringing dogs to work that includes the following elements:

  • A statement that dogs must be properly trained
  • A requirement for up-to-date vaccines
  • A clause that makes owners responsible for damage repair or cleans up if an incident occurs

As a courtesy, workers wishing to bring a dog to work should seek the permission of their coworkers. Find out ahead of time if there’s an allergy or phobia concern. Consider the use of a sign-up system to ensure that not everyone brings dogs to work on the same day, and certainly do not allow any dogs with aggression towards people or other dogs. Your policy may also include a process for dealing with troubled dogs. For example, you may decide upon a zero-tolerance policy toward aggression that results in a lifetime ban, or a rehabilitation program for dogs that have accidents or make mischief. Whatever you decide, having it written in a policy is a surefire way of ensuring that all of your “dogs” are in a row!

Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator

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