The term Culture of Care is used in the laboratory animal community to indicate a commitment to improving animal welfare, scientific quality, care of the staff and transparency for the stakeholders.

Recital 31 of the EU Directive 2010/EU states:
Animal-welfare considerations should be given the highest priority in the context of animal keeping, breeding and use. Breeders, suppliers and users should therefore have an animal-welfare body in place with the primary task of focusing on giving advice on animal-welfare issues. The body should also follow the development and outcome of projects at establishment level, foster a climate of care and provide tools for the practical application and timely implementation of recent technical and scientific developments in relation to the principles of replacement, reduction and refinement, in order to enhance the life-time experience of the animals. The advice given by the animal-welfare body should be properly documented and open to scrutiny during inspections.

In guidance produced by the EU Commission and endorsed by the national competent authorities, entitled A working document on Animal Welfare Bodies and National Committees to fulfil the requirements under the Directive, there is a section on 'establishing and maintaining an appropriate climate of care, often called in practice, and subsequently referred to in this document as, a "culture of care", among the animal user community.' The section is entitled 'Fostering a Culture of Care". It is listed as one of the benefits of an effective Animal Welfare Body.

The section states:
'Fostering a Culture of Care
Ensuring an appropriate culture of care is in everyone’s interests, as it will promote improved animal welfare and therefore enhanced scientific outcomes, and give all those involved in the establishment confidence that delivering high quality animal care and use practices is an important priority.

Simply having animal facilities and resources which meet the requirements of the legislation will not ensure that appropriate animal welfare, care and use practices will automatically follow. All those involved in the care and use of animals should be committed to the Three Rs principles and demonstrate a caring and respectful attitude towards the animals bred or used for scientific procedures. Without an appropriate culture of care within an establishment, it is unlikely that welfare and scientific outcomes will be optimised.

The key factors which blend together to foster the appropriate culture of care within an establishment include:

  • Appropriate behaviour and attitude towards animal research from all key personnel is of critical importance.
    Management should be knowledgeable of animal care and use issues with a commitment to provide high animal welfare standards; staff who work diligently, accept individual responsibility at all levels, and are willing to take the initiative to resolve problems should any arise. In summary, an attitude that is not based on complying with the rules alone but on an individual's positive and proactive mind-set and approach to animal welfare and humane science;
  • A corporate expectation of high standards with respect to the legal, welfare, Three Rs and ethical aspects of the use of animals, operated and endorsed at all levels throughout the establishment; The establishment will maintain animal facilities to a high standard, and have established policies on animal welfare. Animals will be provided with good veterinary and technical care by well trained staff;
  • Shared responsibility (without loss of individual responsibility) towards animal care, welfare and use;
  • A pro-active approach towards improving standards, rather than merely reacting to problems when they arise;
  • Effective communication throughout the establishment on animal welfare, care and use issues and the relation of these to good science;
  • The importance of compliance is understood and effected;
  • Those with specified roles know their responsibility and tasks;
  • Empowered care staff and veterinarians - Animal care and technical staff are respected and listened to and their roles and work are supported throughout the establishment;
  • All voices and concerns are heard and dealt with positively. Personnel at all levels throughout the organisation should be encouraged to raise issues of concern (i.e. there should be a “no blame culture”), and good interaction and communication between researchers and animal care staff should also be encouraged.

How can a good culture of care be developed?
Although, the culture of care should permeate throughout all levels of the establishment, it is essential that senior staff should take the lead, and visibly demonstrate their commitment to, and support for, a good culture of care within the establishment.
Selection of staff utilising tailored recruitment processes which assist recognition of the desired traits. These processes should preferably apply to selection of all those involved in the care and use of animals.
Management should acknowledge and appreciate efforts of staff to promote an effective culture of care, for example as part of staff appraisal criteria or by developing award programmes for Three R initiatives.
Expectations of the establishment with regard to welfare and care practices should be communicated to all personnel, not just those directly involved with animal care and use. These should be further emphasised and expanded in the induction and ongoing training programmes for all those using and caring for animals.
Encourage development of formal and informal communication channels between researchers and care and technical staff for mutual benefit with respect to science and animal welfare. Encourage links with outside establishments to develop and share good practices, for example inviting in guest lecturers or arranging exchange visits for staff.

Role of Animal Welfare Body in promoting a good Culture of Care
The AWB is in ideal position to drive the culture of care, and should demonstrate effective leadership in this area. The AWB should ensure, in collaboration with senior management, that there are appropriate structures in place to promote a suitable culture of care, and that these are kept under review to ensure the outcomes are delivered effectively.
All relevant staff should be aware of the role of the AWB and be encouraged to contribute ideas and initiatives to further develop good practices.
The AWB should deliver a collaborative, collegiate and non-confrontational approach whilst maintaining authority and achieving implementation of advice.

Further suggestions to assist the AWB in achieving a good culture of care:

  • Encourage scientists to work with (and value the contribution of) animal care staff;

  • Provide information on the role and functions of the AWB for new staff and encourage their contributions;

  • Provide for on-going involvement of project holders in the AWB;

  • Provide the opportunity and encouragement for any staff member to raise issues with, and to attend AWB meetings;

  • Communicate with all staff (presentations/newsletters/web page) and spread the word about the Three Rs, welfare improvements, policy changes, roles of care staff, training persons and veterinarians, and the AWB itself.'

Later in the document, it states that the National Committee can contribute to the culture of care by:

  • 'Organisation of a national forum to allow sharing of good practice;
  • Ensuring sharing of good practices through the establishment of a national framework

    to collect, store and disseminate information on good practices;

  • Promoting the importance and relevance of a good culture of care to good scientific and animal welfare outcomes;

  • Making AWBs aware of, and supporting their role as, the promoter of a good culture of care;

  • Utilising the benefits of personal contacts and interactions, in contrast to impersonal 'newsletters' to emphasise the importance of good culture of care.'

Further advice on how to promote a culture of care is given in the Guidance Document entitled Inspections and Enforcement, and the Document entitled Education and Training Framework indicates how a culture of care can be integrated in these processes.

The Culture of Care - a working concept: a one-page summary of the concept and essential factors, by Penny Hawkins and Maggy Jennings, endorsed by the Culture of Care Network described below.

The concept of a culture of care is all about attitude, and therefore consists of more than lip-service. Education and involvement of all personnel from the day they join the staff are essential ingredients. Time must also be allocated to discuss the present status and opportunities for improvement. Each member of staff should feel a sense of responsibility for nuturing this culture.

Closely related to a culture of care is the concept of a Culture of Challenge (Louhimies, 2015). This is about looking for the acceptable, rather than choosing the accepted. The expression "because we've always done it that way" should immediately trigger a (diplomatic) response to evaluate whether they may be better ways of performing the task in question. The Three S tenet of Carol Newton is also very relevant here.

Culture of Care Network

At the FELASA Congress in Brussels in June 2016, there were 7 presentations which discussed the culture of care. Thomas Bertelsen proposed to establish a network of persons actively working with the culture of care. This culture is an essential tool to ensure continuous improvements in laboratory animal welfare.

Interest from the participants has so far resulted in a network of over 20 members from 14 different countries. The members have a variety of functions and skills:

  • In vivo technicians
  • Lab animal veterinarians
  • Members of animal welfare bodies
  • Representatives of competent authorities
  • Communications experts
  • Members of animal welfare organisations

What does the network want to achieve?

Each user establishment will have its own way of conveying its culture of care. However, the goal of this network is to

  • promote a mind-set and behaviour that continuously and proactively works to progress and promote laboratory animal welfare and the 3 Rs
  • go to a level above and beyond a culture of compliance
  • include a culture of challenge

There is a need for tangible examples of behaviour-driven lab animal welfare improvements that demonstrate to society an accountable use of laboratory animals. The review of Directive 2010/63/EU, due by November 2017, called for examples of lab animal welfare improvements generated by user establishments.

The primary outcome of the network is to share and publish examples of activities fostering a Culture of Care which make a difference in terms of improved animal welfare.

Those interested in joining the network can contact Thomas Bertelsen for more information.



CoC ScandLAS poster 2017
Poster about Culture of Care at the Scand-LAS symposium, Copenhagen, 30 May - 2 June 2017

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