Taking Danger Off the Table
Safety is an issue every minute of every day in the grooming salon; after all, we have been entrusted with the care of someone’s precious pet. Leaving a beloved dog or cat with someone, even a professional pet handler, is an act of trust–our clients trust that we not only know what we are doing and will turn out an attractive result, but will keep the animal unharmed throughout the process.
Safety is also an ongoing concern for the humans that work in the salon, and there’s an obligation, both legal and ethical, on the part of the salon owner and staff to make sure it is not a dangerous environment.
A good portion of the time an animal is in the salon is spent on a table of some kind, so it is important to consider all the things that can go wrong there—for example, any table can fall or tip under the right circumstances. Prevention is generally a matter of forethought. Unfortunately, we can’t think of every possibility, sometimes a potential danger isn’t clear until it has happened. I remember working on a new Jack Russell client that was a bit jumpy—hardly unusual for the breed. When the outside door slammed shut with a big bang, he launched himself into the air at a 45-degree angle, and it was sheer luck that I somehow managed to catch him before he hit the end of the grooming loop. He could have seriously injured his neck and even tipped the sturdy hydraulic table, although he weighed just 15 pounds. It could have been a tragedy.
As a result, I changed the door to prevent it from slamming and learned never to underestimate an animal, no matter how small.
The bottom line is that we all need to think about everything that can possibly go wrong on or with a table, no matter how unlikely it may seem, and plan ahead to prevent it.
Maintenance is Key
A good place to start is by keeping up with whatever maintenance the manufacturer recommends or common sense dictates. For instance, any table with metal edging can become a danger to a dog’s feet or a human’s hands if it begins to lift away from the table and presents a sharp edge, or if it rusts. Make sure the edging is tight, and replace it if necessary.
Keep all table surfaces clean using not only cleaners, but also disinfectants on a regular basis. To provide secure footing for dogs, grooming tables do not have a perfectly smooth surface. This means there are crevices in which bacteria can multiply. Some salons use removable table toppers or mats to make it easier to keep the surface safe against both slipping and the spread of disease.
Given the right (or is it wrong?) circumstances, any table can be made to shake. We all have dog’s that can be classified as “wobblers”—you know, the big ones that brace their legs and start to tremble, which gets the table moving. About all you can do is brace your thigh against the table and put a hand on the dog to help stop the movement. Getting the dog to sit until he is less afraid may help, but not always. Once a dog like that has gotten into full panic mode, he’s going to do his best to get off the table. Make sure he doesn’t get there, even if it means pushing the table against the wall. Of course, a table that is less likely to shake, or one with a larger surface for the dog to stand on, may also help. No matter how this type of client is handled, it is very important to mark the client card or account accordingly, so the next groomer will be ready.
A dog’s natural instinct when upset is flight or fight, and most would rather get away than argue with you. Add many dogs’ innate fear of falling, and it becomes clear why dogs try to jump off tables. Any dog with a grooming loop around its neck that decides to leave is at risk of jerking or even breaking its neck, hanging, injuring a leg when hitting the floor, or having the table fall on them. The first line of defense should be a panic snap of the type that holds securely against pressure but releases instantly with a quick pull by the groomer.
It is also important that you never leave a dog unattended on a table, and all staff members should be trained to help support the dog and table as they go over to ensure a gentle landing. Cats, if noosed, should not be noosed only around the neck, but around the torso as well.
Electric tables have their own set of potential issues. On many of these tables, the frame compresses as the surface is lowered, which can be a serious risk if a groomer’s foot or hand, or a small dog is between segments as it goes down.
Some tables can get within 12 inches of the floor. If your grooming arm extends more than a foot below the level of the table, chances are you will ram the pole into the floor—not good for the floor, the pole, the motor or your foot if it’s underneath. Be sure to adjust the arm height after small dogs before you lower the table to accommodate a big dog.
If an electric table is used anywhere near the tub or other water source, make sure it’s plugged into a GFI (Ground Fault Interrupter) outlet to prevent the possibility of electrical shock. Check to see if the manufacturer recommends use in the tub area at all.
You should also be aware that some electric tables go high enough to substantially increase the risk of injury should an animal fall or jump. The upside to electric tables, when it comes to safety, is that they are usually so heavy that they are far less likely to tip.
Hydraulic tables, especially those with a center post, have the possibility of spinning if they are not locked, or if the locking mechanism is broken or defective. Make sure everyone in the salon knows how they work. It sounds silly, I know, but it can be easy to forget to explain to a new employee that half pumps on the lever raise the table, constant pressure lowers it, and you must put your foot under the lever and lift up in order to lock it in position. If the table has a bit of a sway area, instead of a positive lock, call the manufacturer for instructions on how to correct the problem.
Folding tables can collapse under a dog’s weight if they are not put together properly, or if the legs are allowed to rust. When assembling, make sure that the legs are fully locked into place.
Another area in which safety needs to be addressed is in getting dogs onto the table. Some salons have stairs or ramps, while others lift using the buddy system. While it can take extra time to train dogs to walk stairs and ramps, they will save wear and tear on your back in the long run. There is a risk of dogs falling or jumping off the side of such items, but careful training with at least two people present will minimize that risk. Once trained, they usually go right up.
Some stairs fold and can hang neatly on the wall out of the way. If the buddy lift is the way you choose to pick up a dog, make sure everyone is trained on how to do it safely. The dog needs to be supported as completely as possible. At the same time, staff members need to lift carefully, bending from the knees not the back.
Spend the time to carefully think about everything that can go wrong with your grooming tables and how those things might be prevented. I’ve heard people say that Murphy’s Law (if anything can possibly go wrong, it will) runs the grooming industry, but we can reduce its effects as much as possible with a little forethought.
Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.