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Hazards for Workers in the Horseracing Industry, Potential Interventions Outlined by NIOSH


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Christina Bowles (202) 245-0633
May 1, 2009

A new report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) examines occupational safety and health hazards for jockeys and other workers in the horseracing industry. The report also suggests measures for consideration by owners, professional associations, and others in reducing the risks of work-related injuries and illnesses.

NIOSH prepared the report, “An Overview of Safety and Health for Workers in the Horse- Racing Industry,” at the request of the Chairman and Ranking Members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, as a result of Subcommittee hearings in 2005 on safety and health concerns in the industry. The report incorporated an analysis of data from relevant sources, information from industry associations and racetrack sites, on-site visits to two track sites, a public meeting, and public docket 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.”

NIOSH’s review of data found that 79 work-related deaths occurred in the industry during the period 1992-2006, and more than 14,000 non-fatal injuries associated with the industry were treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms during the period 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, NIOSH said.

Trainers and jockeys sustained the majority of the fatalities – 28 and 26 deaths, respectively. Seventeen of the fatalities occurred as a result of either being kicked or stepped on by a horse, and 14 of the 17 involved a kick to the chest or abdomen. Males accounted for a majority of the deaths, 82 percent. Twenty-one percent of the decedents were Hispanic, a higher proportion of Hispanic job-related fatalities than the proportion for Hispanic workers in all occupations on average during the same period, 12.5 percent.

In non-fatal injuries, men were injured more often than women, accounting for 61 percent of the cases. The upper extremities (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, lower arm, wrist, hand, fingers) were the part of the body most often injured, accounting for 33 percent of the injuries. In almost all (91 percent) of the non-fatal cases, which were tracked through hospital emergency room records, the injured person was treated and released without being admitted.

Risks for adverse health effects for jockeys, which were reported in the scientific literature, include hazards from disordered eating habits or other measures in order to lose weight, musculoskeletal injuries, and potential exposures to lead dust from storage of saddle weights and to respirable dust from the surfaces of tracks.

NIOSH’s recommendations for race tracks, racing commissions, and horse owners included these:

  • Worker safety and health should be a part of everyday decision-making – for example, in assessing conditions for determining if a scheduled race should be held or canceled, or in 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 humans and mounts should be incorporated into the design of equipment and facilities.

NIOSH recommendations for jockeys included these:

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

NIOSH recommendations for other race track workers included these:

  • Workers should become educated in safety issues related to their work responsibilities.
  • Workers should consider wearing personal protective equipment near a horse.

The report, “An Overview of Safety and Health for Workers in the Horse-Racing Industry,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2009-128, is available on the NIOSH web page at, with additional information about this area of research. The report is also discussed on the NIOSH Science Blog at

NIOSH is the federal agency that conducts research and makes recommendations to prevent work-related injury, illness, and death. More information about NIOSH can be found at .