Evidence of horse racing risks

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has commented on an article in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) entitled “The incidence of race-day jockey falls in Australia, 2002-2006”.  The AMA summarises the report’s statistics

“Falls occurred at a rate of 0.42% in flat racing and 5.26% in jumps racing. Although most falls occurred pre- or post-race, falls occurring during the race resulted in the most severe injuries.”

However, the statistics, that can only be accessed fully by subscribers, should be looked at more closely in order to investigated the most appropriate control measures.  It should be noted that the risks for horses is not part of the report.

The report finds

“There were 3360 jockey falls from 748 367 rides. Falls occurred at a rate of 0.42 per 100 rides in flat races and 5.26 per 100 rides in jumps races. In flat racing, 54.6% (1694/3101) of falls occurred before the start of the race and 11.1% (344/3101) of falls occurred post-race.  The 34.3% (1063/3101) of falls that occurred during flat races resulted in 61.7% (516/836) of the injuries sustained.  In jumps racing, most falls occurred at a jump and 9.7% (25/259) of jockeys who fell were transported to hospital and/or declared unfit to ride.  There were five fatalities resulting from falls during the study period, all in flat racing.  Fall and injury rates were comparable with those found in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Japan.”

The authors found that

“Being a jockey carries a substantial risk of injury and death. Although rates of injury in Australia are not exceptional by international standards, there can be improvement to safety standards in the Australian racing industry.”

Most reports end with statements that seem blatantly obvious but it is worth considering the findings that the five jockey fatalities were “all in flat racing”. These finding would question the strategy of some safety lobbyists who focus on jumps racing.

The available information says that 85% of falls resulted from the jockey being dislodged.  More useful information would come from looking at the specific causes of the injuries – head trauma, shoulder injury, back…  This information is not publicly available but is crucial in determining what type of PPE jockey’s should wear, if any.  Much work is aimed at helmets and protective vests, and banning jumps racing with which the statistics from this report may assist.

WorkSafe Victoria’s guide on track safety mentions some track or barrier design changes.  It would be useful to know what injuries resulted from jockeys falling on railings in order to verify the value of the redesign recommendations.  Granted the WorkSafe recommendations don’t specifically address race day conditions but in terms of track design the situation is not relevant.

Specific information on jockey injuries in Victoria was reported to WorkSafe in 2006.  The report found

  • 67% of falls injuries recorded in the RVL [Racing Victoria Limited] data set are suffered by jockeys at race events;
  • 33% of falls injuries recorded in the RVL data set are to licensed jockeys at track work;
  • 43% of falls injuries recorded in the VWA [Victorian WorkCover Authority] data set are to track work riders (excluding licensed jockeys) at track work.

Control measures are recommended in the WorkSafe report, a report that was not referenced in the MJA article even though other work by one of the report’s authors, Steve Cowley, is mentioned.

All reports and investigations have their limitations and specific aims  but it is disappointing that the MJA article was more interested in benchmarking than proposing safety solutions.  The researcher’s aims for the MJA report was stated as

“… to determine the incidence of falls, injuries and fatalities occurring at race meetings in Australia, and to compare them with overseas rates.”

An opportunity was missed to provide some information on the safety changes that could reduce the injuries to, and fatalities of, jockeys.

Kevin Jones

Categories death, OHS, research, safety, Sport, Uncategorized, WorkSafeTags , , , ,

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