Much has been written and said about the safety of the magnificent steeds that are the stars of the Thoroughbred racing industry, but far less has been written about the safety of the more than 10,000 Kentuckians who work in the racing industry, including those employed on horse farms and those who work at racetracks.
That’s about to change. Jennifer Swanberg, a University of Kentucky professor of social work and executive director of UK’s Institute for Workplace Innovation, has received a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a multiyear study of health and safety practices of the Thoroughbred industry.
The study intends to fill a gap in an industry where there are few definitive statistics on injuries, illness and deaths related to the work, Swanberg said. The study is designed to find ways to improve horse farm safety and provide resources free to horse farms.
The study has broad support among organizations involved in racing, which has been called Kentucky’s “signature industry.”
“I think everybody knows agriculture is one of our more dangerous industries,” Swanberg said. Indeed it is, and much been written and studied about the number of horses euthanized after being injured at the track, including many that have sustained fatal injuries during races. However, little is known about the farm workers who are injured while working with the Thoroughbreds.
Windfields Farm head Scott Mallory hopes the project will lead to education and safety reforms in the industry as well as serve as a resource to get farms the assistance they need.
“I think there’s always been an issue with farm safety,” said Mallory, president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club. “And I believe this study will kind of help show where we need some education and help some reforms along, and maybe form a resource for them to go to get the help they need.”
Swanberg said her study is designed to find ways to improve horse farm safety and provide those resources free to horse farms.
“When you talk to farm owners and managers ... safety and health are primary concerns,” Swanberg said. “This was an area we identified that could help the industry.”
The study will take part in three phases, starting with in-depth interviews with farm owners, managers and human resources personnel about safety issues and including interviews with Thoroughbred farm workers recruited off-site, confidentially, about concerns and analysis of the data to determine what resources can be developed by UK to help improve safety.
Swanberg said she’s encouraged so many Thoroughbred industry groups and farms are eager to partner with the study. About 40 farms have agreed to participate and a broad-based board from the Thoroughbred industry and from the farm-worker community will review all results. Information will be shared with all horse farms.
David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association-Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said the KTOBA is also participating in the project.
“We’re all concerned about the health and welfare of the horse,” Switzer said. “Well, then, we ought to be concerned about the health of our employees as well.”
Farming by its nature is dangerous, and working daily exercising, breaking, feeding and just being around horses is bound to result in injuries. So is lifting heavy bags of feed and bales of hay and straw. However, there are always safer ways of doing even dangerous jobs.
Our hope is the UK study not only will provide data about the type and frequency of farm-related injuries in the Thoroughbred industry, but also lead to practices that reduce the number of farm-related injuries.