Safety issues with anaesthetics for surgical or prolonged procedures

Many injectable anaesthetics are controlled drugs in the UK and elsewhere. Although the immediate risks associated with accidental self-injection are small, they must be handled carefully, and stored securely. 

Any injectable or volatile anaesthetics that remain after you have completed an anaesthetic need to be stored safely and securely or disposed of safely. The regulations controlling this will vary in different countries. If you are obtaining the anaesthetic agents from your animal unit, they will be able to advise you on what procedure needs to be followed. If you have purchased the anaesthetic agents yourself, then your veterinary advisor, or the supplier, should be able to advise you on safe disposal and storage.


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As a general guide, small quantities of injectable anaesthetic remaining in a syringe can be disposed of in a hazardous waste “sharps” bin.

Careful records should be maintained of the quantities used, and this may be a legal requirement for some drugs. In the UK, anaesthetics should be obtained through the establishment’s named veterinary surgeon, as with other Prescription Only Medicines (POMs).

Inhalational anaesthetics cause few immediate safety problems, although if a bottle of anaesthetic is spilt, dangerously high concentrations of vapour can be produced. The safety issue of greatest concern, however, is long-term exposure of staff to low concentrations of anaesthetic vapour. To reduce this exposure:

  • Use an effective gas-scavenging system whenever practicable
  • During induction using a face-mask, use a close-fitting mask, and try to reducing any struggling by the animal so that the mask does not become displaced
  • Avoid sitting close to the animal’s head during recovery, as it will continue to exhale anaesthetic for a considerable time
  • Always work in a well-ventilated room
  • Fill anaesthetic vaporisers using a “key-filling” system.

Next Article : Maintaining and monitoring anaesthesia for surgical or prolonged procedures

Updated on 12th May 2020

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