“If it’s got teeth, it can bite,” says an OSHA-compliance officer at USPS.
Postal workers are having to contend with dog attacks – an everyday safety concern that workers need to be constantly aware of and prepared for – no matter the size of the dogs they encounter.
Outdoor workers, delivery drivers, home maintenance workers, and others who visit customers’ homes also are at risk. Home deliveries have increased substantially due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as millions of Americans are now ordering food and other essential items online.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, nearly 48.3 million households owned at least one dog in 2018 – up from more than 43.3 million in 2012. The AVMA estimates there are 77 million dogs in US households.
Among private-industry employees, nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses involving dogs nearly doubled to 6,230 in 2018 from 3,380 in 2011, National Safety Council data shows.
USPS recorded around 5,700 dog attacks or bites last year.
Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for nearly one third of all homeowners’ liability claim dollars paid out in 2019, costing nearly $797 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and State Farm. This represents an 18% increase compared to payments in 2018. An analysis of homeowners’ insurance data also revealed the number of dog bite claims nationwide increased to 17,802 in 2019, a 2.9% increase compared to 2018.
For landscaping workers, Drew Garcia, chair of the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Safety and Risk Management Committee, recommends performing a job hazard analysis at each location before beginning work.
“The likelihood of a dog being there is probable,” he said. “You look at the exposures that would come with that worksite. Dogs would be one of those, and you’d want to address that with the homeowner. ‘
‘Where’s the dog going to be while I’m here?’ Maybe you ask, ‘What’s the dog’s name?’ If any of that looks different or the dog is in a different place, that would be a cause for caution. Then, adjust your plan.”
Experienced drivers share best practices to keep colleagues safe, often with a twist. Along with presentations from workers who have been bitten, some committee members have donned a dog costume as drivers arrive for their workday. The committees also have brought in a dog during training.
Experts shared these best practices for workers who encounter aggressive dogs:
- Don’t approach a dog you don’t know. You should assume every dog is aggressive, versus every dog is nice.
- Never run from a dog. You can’t outrun a dog.
- Announce yourself. UPS drivers are known to honk their horns when arriving at a residence. Workers are encouraged to rattle a fence or loudly announce, “It’s the power company!” to not take a dog by surprise.
- Communicate with homeowners. Ask a resident to put a dog in the house or a separate room.