Posted: 16th March 2022 | Back to news feed

Research carried out by Hartpury University academics in partnership with Racing Welfare, has made a number of recommendations to improve occupational health and wellbeing among horseracing staff. The research aimed to investigate the injury profile of British horseracing staff, including potential risk factors, injury management and their personal attitudes towards injury.

The project was led by Emma Davies (Senior Lecturer and PhD student at Hartpury University) and supported by Hartpury University’s Dr Jane Williams (Associate Prof. and Head of Research), Lorna Cameron (Senior Lecturer) and Dr John Parker (Chartered Sport Psychologist and Reader), as well as Dr Will McConn-Palfreyman, a Chartered Sport Psychologist at the Sport Scotland Institute of Sport.

Occupational health of racing staff has become a leading priority for the industry, and it’s becoming increasingly more important to consider the nature of injury for horseracing staff, in line with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) Recruitment, Training and Retention strategy.

An online survey was completed by 352 respondents gathering industry data from horseracing staff including stud grooms, racing grooms, assistant trainers, and work riders in the preceding 12 months. Respondents completed 24 closed, and two open questions. Questions were designed by the research team, informed by previous research, and approved by Racing Welfare, to investigate injury prevalence, risk factors and injury reporting behaviours within horseracing staff. Questions covered four areas of significance: employee demographics, employment characteristics, injury characteristics, and injury management, including coping strategies.

A total of 352 respondents gave data on injuries obtained within the last 12 months; 1164 injuries were reported for 310 participants, with 42 people (11.9%) reporting they had not experienced an injury. The most common injuries reported were bruises and lacerations (29.44%), back pain (23.22%), muscle and soft tissue injuries (18.74%), and concussion (5.14%).

Working more hours increased the risk of chronic musculoskeletal injuries in staff as seen in other vocational sectors. Due to the nature of the role in caring for animals as well as the financial challenges trainers face related to recruitment and retention in the current climate, recommendations to reduce working hours for stable staff as a method to reduce injury risk are unrealistic. Therefore, other preventative strategies are required to maximise health and safety for racing staff in training and stud yards to counteract the effect of physical fatigue from working longer hours.

When injured, over half of staff made no adaptations to their daily working environment. Modification of tasks is a common workplace adaptation following injury or illness and has been linked to increased perception of job control, a factor that could mitigate the risk of re-injury and improve overall job satisfaction. Whilst adaptations were reported in this study, the ability to temporarily modify job roles within horseracing would be dependent on managerial culture and staffing structure within the yard environment.

Over the counter pain medication was the most common form of pain relief used for pain associated with daily tasks at work. The high reported use of painkillers within this study to maintain daily occupational demands highlights a potential problem with the overuse of pain medication in the racing industry and is something that requires further investigation into the long-term consequences on staff health.

Participants were divided on whether work friends, parents, their employer, and their spouse were helpful during their personal injury experiences. Approximately 40% of staff reported their employer as unhelpful compared to approximately 40% who viewed them as helpful during injury periods, suggesting the nature of the relationship with the individual may be a factor in the employer being perceived as part of their support network during injury.

Staff reported a high incidence of chronic musculoskeletal injuries experienced within 12 months, and physical limitations, loss of confidence, workplace changes, and lifestyle implications were reported as key areas affected by personal injury. Horseracing staff were less likely to report or take time-off for invisible injuries, such as concussion or musculoskeletal pain, compared to fractures. Attitudes towards injury reporting and management were influenced by several factors, including financial circumstances, perception of staff shortages, previous injury experiences, and perception of employer and peer expectations.

The research made several recommendations. These included the introduction of an online Horseracing Occupational Health and Injury Training Package for staff, alongside a national return-to-work procedure for injured stud and stable staff. Targeted senior staff and managerial training on occupational injury and injury management embedded into pre-existing courses would also be both realistic and impactful.

The authors also recommend the expansion and promotion of The Racing Occupational Health Service and its resources alongside a national campaign to promote concussion awareness and the development of standardised protocols for concussion management in yard settings.

Hartpury University has a close working relationship with the horseracing industry.

The British Racing School and Hartpury University officially launched their brand new partnership in 2021, with the introduction of a new FdSc Horseracing Industry degree programme. The course is the first of its kind to help staff working within the UK horseracing industry to enhance their career opportunities.

Run primarily by the British Racing School but in partnership with Hartpury University, the programme allows students to carry out their studies alongside their often challenging and time-consuming roles.

Two other horseracing degrees were introduced last year, a BA (Hons) International Horseracing Business and BSc (Hons) Racehorse Performance and Rehabilitation. Both provide students with an opportunity to benefit from Hartpury’s research capabilities, industry links and outstanding facilities.


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