05 February, 2020

4 tips for developing a laboratory animal care training program

By Travis Rothrock

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The quality of research and welfare of laboratory animals greatly depends on the competence of those caring for them humanely and responsibly. That is why a comprehensive training program is vital to all employees in any laboratory animal care setting. Such programs help ensure employees are qualified for their jobs and are complying with federal regulatory policies.

For instance, the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals requires institutions it supports to establish and maintain proper measures to ensure the appropriate care and use of animals involved in biomedical and behavioral testing or training. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) is then responsible for oversight of the animal care and use program – as described in the PHS – at least twice a year.

Those in academic institutions, pharmaceutical or biotech industries looking to run an animal facility - and/or maintain or breed a model - may look to large vendors like Envigo for guidance and expertise. Envigo created a 300-page “Companion Guide” detailing its internal processes with animal welfare and handling, biosecurity, support services and cleaning, colony management, processing orders and euthanasia.

“We developed this tool for internal use to support our employees’ development and training. It has become a useful supplement to our standard operating procedures and allows for user-friendly training” said Mandy Horn, M.S. - Envigo Veterinary Science, Research and Support.

Envigo is now in the process of developing a guide to share some of those tips and tricks with a larger audience to help others build and benefit from their own laboratory animal care training program.

“It would be a good template that they could review and build upon and not necessarily apply 100% to their institution, but use to help develop their training and maybe add something they didn’t consider,” added Horn.

For now, here are four benefits of implementing such a program and how best to get started:

The benefits:

1. Improved animal welfare:

The most important benefit of employee training is the protection of animal welfare and quality. Providing employees with the tools to carry out routine tasks insures the animals are protected and safe. This also insures animals are cared for appropriately and high-quality research models reach the customer.

“If we don’t provide the tools and training to our employees, research results could be impacted and that doesn’t align with our core values,” said Horn, who helped develop Envigo’s Companion Guide.

2. Decreased errors:

A laboratory animal care training program should be designed to adequately prepare employees to complete their work with minimal errors. A mistake on the simplest task could create some big consequences down the line both internally and for the customer. For example: A customer requests research models be preconditioned on a specific diet to create a specific phenotype prior to shipment and those models were maintained on an incorrect diet during that period. Even if the error was corrected, that would add additional time to the study.

“If we want our employees to succeed, we have to provide them with the right tools to complete their tasks,” Horn shared. “Our goal should be for the employee to complete their work in a given period of time with minimal errors, because errors can impact animal welfare or even lead to failed studies.”

3. Employee engagement and retention:

Employees provided comprehensive training are more confident in what they do. Giving employees the tools to succeed in their positions not only helps with morale, but longevity too. Employees appreciate when their company has invested in them and take the time to show them what’s going on, how things work and how to do their job well.

4. Long-term interest and personnel development:

Training is life-long, but a strong foundation is key. Employees have to have the building blocks to have a strong foundation. They can become complacent in their tasks and in turn, may make errors. Maintain an employee’s interest by continuing to help build their foundation. Encourage their learning and growth by looking and finding new opportunities and information to help them with their everyday tasks.

“Whether you’re an animal technician providing daily animal care or a surgeon performing a more technical role, you need to keep fresh,” added Horn, a scientist at Envigo for 11 years. “If not, you may make more errors or fall behind as the company or industry changes.”

Getting started:

1. Design a training program with the employee end goal in mind:

Know the employee you’re training and where you want them to be as far as their knowledge and expertise or what their work set looks like - then build training on that information. A beginner-level employee may have never been around animals and has no knowledge of their handling. So, start simple and at the beginning.

Employees who have more training or further certification - like lab animal technologists - will certify in initial basic concepts and quickly develop toward more complex procedures while entry-level employees may need more support. Will the employee be handling animals and/or chemicals or will they have more responsibility like a group leader or supervisor? Figure out what each employee will be doing, where you want them to go in the position and take the training to that point.

2. Seek out training resources:

Gather information from industry experts and colleagues about their processes, successes and failures. Even if it’s not the exact same work, similarities can always be found and helpful. Also, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) has an online learning library focused on training and animal care quality. Members of Envigo’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) continue to train through an AALAS sanctioned training once a year.

3. Make training fun and interactive:

Break up monotonous training like reading instructions on how to complete different tasks with other activities. Perform presentations. Fill out workbooks. Create teams to work together to find answers. At Envigo, we provide classroom-style training, but also hands-on applications in safe environments. For example: Employees read instructions on how to wear personal protective equipment, then take part in a mock experience before the real application.

“It just gets you out of that ‘here’s your notebook of work and instructions, go read this and then turn around and do the work.’ Some parts of a training program may not be fun, but our employees are accountable for the information,” said Horn. “Mix it up and incorporate some other activities just to break up the monotony of the process.”

4. Repetition, review and retrain if necessary:

Envigo’s quality department sets up time to review all work instructions on a frequent basis to make sure they are appropriate, accurate and the best practices. If there aren’t any changes, employees read the instructions and sign off on what they’ve reviewed. If there is a change, leaders may put together a training session, like a webinar, to review new processes.

“Most basic processes don’t really change, but something that is more invasive or advanced, we put out refreshers just to make sure we keep doing it right. We require periodic review to ensure compliance even in basic tasks, so we don’t become complacent and make mistakes,” Horn explained.

Implementing a laboratory animal care training program creates a foundation for your team to thrive. When institutions have a baseline, they may examine which processes need refining and optimizing to suit their needs. Refinement, after all, is a mainstay within animal welfare.

“Envigo is continuously looking for ways to refine our techniques,” added Horn. “Always keeping animal welfare at the forefront of everything.”

Please contact our team with questions.

Category // Research models and services, animal welfare, animal research