NIOSH Offers Advice in Time for Derby Day

Though significant, safety hazards may be the least of the industry's worries as the 135th Kentucky Derby is run today.

Just in time for today's 135th Kentucky Derby, NIOSH issued a new report Friday about hazards encountered by jockeys and other workers in the horse racing industry. (As though the bankruptcy of the company that owns Pimlico, a track in Maryland that hosts the second jewel, the Preakness, in the yearly Triple Crown, and H1N1 flu concerns limiting large public gatherings, aren't already enough trouble for the industry.) The NIOSH report also suggests measures for consideration by owners, professional associations, and others to curb the risks of injuries and illnesses.

NIOSH said "An Overview of Safety and Health for Workers in the Horse- Racing Industry" was prepared at the request of the chairman and ranking members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations after the subcommittee's hearings in 2005. NIOSH visited two tracks, talked with industry associations and industry people, held a public meeting, and accepted comments.

"NIOSH was pleased to partner with stakeholders in reviewing available data, developing recommendations for interventions, and identifying opportunities for research to address questions that remain to be answered," said NIOSH Acting Director Christine M. Branche, Ph.D. "We hope this document will be useful in guiding efforts to prevent work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths in activities associated with this venerable national pastime."

The review found 79 work-related deaths occurred in the industry in 1992-2006 and more than 14,000 non-fatal injuries associated with the industry were treated in U.S. hospitals' emergency rooms in 1998-2006. "These statistics likely are underestimates, in part because in some instances, details are not available that would be needed for determining whether a given injury or death was associated with employment in the horseracing industry," the agency said.

The fatalities include 28 trainers and 26 jockeys, the bulk of the total, and 17 of the total deaths resulted from being kicked or stepped on by a horse.

NIOSH has these recommendations for tracks, racing commissions, workers, and horse owners:

  • Worker safety and health should be a part of everyday decision-making. For example, in assessing conditions for determining whether a scheduled race should be held or canceled or assessing a jockey's fitness to ride.
  • Health implications of weight requirements for jockeys should be assessed, and options for adjusting weight should be considered, in consultation with health experts.
  • Data collection systems should be established for monitoring worker injuries and illnesses.
  • Safety of both people and horsses should be incorporated into the design of equipment and facilities.
  • Workers should become educated in safety issues related to their work responsibilities.
  • Workers should consider wearing PPE near a horse.

NIOSH recommendations for jockeys included:

  • Jockeys should become educated about proper nutrition and should consider healthy alternatives for weight management.
  • Jockeys should wear properly fitted PPE.

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