National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Studies Jockeys

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Studies Jockeys

Exposure to lead from saddle weights and to residue from synthetic surfaces were among several concerns raised on a new topic page about jockeys' safety posted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on their Web site, the Department of Health and Human Services division reported Oct. 29.

Citing studies by others, NIOSH said the licensed jockey population in 2000 was estimated by the Jockey’s Guild to be approximately 2,700. Between 1993 and 1996, 6,545 injuries occurred during official races. Other studies found that the low body weight requirement for jockeys increases the risk of acquiring eating disorders and adopting unhealthy behaviors in order to control weight, the agency said.

In the May 22 NIOSH meeting “Safety and Health in the Horse Racing Industry and Best Practices” held this year in Virginia, Dr. David Seftel raised several concerns with his presentation on the myriad issues threatening jockey health and welfare, including riders’ exposure to lead from saddle weights and exposure to residue from synthetic surfaces. Seftel is the medical director for Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields racetracks in northern California.

“These physical and mental challenges may well contribute to risky jockey behavior and poor responsiveness to dangerous riding situations and conditions – and accounts, at least in part, for the record high rate of accidents with concomitant morbidity and mortality,” Seftel said in his presentation. “We welcome the guidance, support, and leadership of NIOSH and the CDC in helping us conduct the required research and implement the best solutions.” 

The agency has been studying jockeys for the past two years at the request of U.S. Congressmen Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.). Stupak served as chairman while Whitfield was ranking member for a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on oversights and investigations hearing – “Thoroughbred Horse Racing Jockeys and Workers: Examining On-Track Injury Insurance and Other Health and Welfare Issues.”

NIOSH visited Keeneland Race Course and the North American Racing Academy to interview state racing officials, jockeys, and others to collect data. The organization plans to compile a technical document to identify potential risk factors in the horse racing industry, and will suggest interventions to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.

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