Report Looks at Human Health, Safety Issues

A report calls for improving the safety and health of horse industry workers.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has issued a report outlining recommendations for improving the safety and health of workers in the horse racing industry.

The report stemmed from 2005 hearings in Congress into the state of health insurance and safety protocol for jockeys and backstretch workers. It came at a time when the Thoroughbred industry was struggling to find comprehensive on-track accident insurance for jockeys.

NIOSH, which falls under the United States Department of Health and Human Services, was asked by lawmakers to investigate potential safety and health hazards in racing.

In May 2007, NIOSH held a public meeting to get information from organizations such as the Jockeys’ Guild, National Thoroughbred Racing Association, American Horse Council, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. NIOSH, in its report, noted most of the testimony dealt with weigh-reduction and weight-maintenance practice by riders; exposure to lead in saddle weights; and the effects of repeated head trauma caused by riding accidents.

Based on data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, NIOSH reported about 14,200 injuries and illnesses associated with Thoroughbred and harness racing in the U.S. from 1998-2006. The report notes 79 fatalities from 1992-2006: 28 trainers, 26 jockeys, eight exercise riders, seven grooms, and 10 other individuals categorized as racetrack personnel.

“The data demonstrate that jockeys are not the only workers exposed to hazards in this industry,” the NIOSH report states in summary. “Trainers, grooms, exercise riders, and various others may encounter many of the same hazards as jockeys, and it is important that all these occupations have the same health and safety procedures, for example wearing safety vests and helmets when in close proximity to horses.”

The report calls for a “standard injury report form” to better track human injuries in the sport. It also notes the “variation of regulations between states creates an additional complication for worker safety and health.”

The industry has taken steps in several areas through the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, which thus far has dealt mostly with equine safety and health. NIOSH recommends further study of quality on-track and off-track medical care; a look at the health implications of jockeys making weight; and making safety and health issues “a part of the everyday decision-making process” at tracks.

Guild national manager Terry Meyocks said he planned to review the document in its entirety, but at face value it covers many of the issues the Guild, which represents about 1,200 jockeys, has been attempting to address for several years.

The complete report is available at the Centers for Disease Control Web site.