Contact: Michael R. Stone at 502-223-1823

3/31/2009 - It’s a great slogan – Healthy Workers for Healthy Horses. It sounds logical and appealing. It subtly emphasizes that a healthy horse ready to compete or reproduce is touched many times by human hands. From breeding to burial, it is the human element of horse racing that ensures the care, safety, fitness and health of the horse.

Healthy Workers for Health Horses is an appropriate phrase to describe the goals of the Winners Federation. As a non-profit organization governed by a diverse body of horse-racing industry leaders and professionals which seeks to improve the health of racetrack and horse-farm workers, it fits. The Winners Federation supports a network of counselors and programs available to all who work with horses.

Turning the slogan somewhat on its side, unhealthy – or impaired – workers can have devastating effects on the health of the horse, and it can go much farther than merely messing up a training routine. Owners, breeders and trainers place their hoofed investments in many hands, each with a role in developing the equine athlete. If one of those sets of hands slips, consequences can be slight or catastrophic.

As the 21st Century progresses, the examples from the modern private and public sectors regarding the importance of maintaining a healthy workforce apply to the horse industry, too. There is a shortage of available and knowledgeable workers. Experts from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau predict continuing labor shortages in the future. The industry is responding to this, for example, in the national Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association Groom Elite Program or the Kentucky Riding Academy retired jockey Chris McCarron started through the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

THE NECESSITY of the human element in horse racing drives another answer to address adequate staffing issues – maintaining a stable workforce. In any labor shortage, it is easier, smarter and less costly to keep good employees than to hire them off the street. Today’s enlightened business operations realize a stable workforce directly – and positively – affects the bottom line profit. Productivity is higher. Training costs are lower. These businesses also realize maintaining a stable workforce depends in large measure on the health of the worker. A healthy worker has less stress, misses fewer days, commits fewer errors, is safer, and has better concentration. This also has positive impacts on the bottom line in reduced health care, workers’ compensation, and insurance and safety costs.

There is a wealth of information, studies, research and reports providing clear evidence a healthy workforce is a critical element for the success of a business – not just because a healthy workforce produces a better product, but also because it leads to lower operational costs. There also are intangible benefits such as long-term employees contributing loyalty and foresight. In any analysis, it means increased profit. Healthy horses do rely on healthy workers.

MANY RACETRACKS and farms recognize this 21st Century business reality. One example is the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.) of New York Inc., which provides healthcare and support services for New York’s racetracks. The examples of bottom-line impact from other businesses and industries are dramatic.

An article from Business First of Columbus posted on the U.S. Department of Labor website reported early intervention and the inclusion of education, prevention and assessment components in an employee assistance program can aid in reducing medical, accident and absenteeism costs. It cited a case study in which early intervention resulted in $7,300 less in health claims, 44 percent fewer work days missed, and 81 percent less attrition than in companies without such programs. For every dollar invested in an employee assistance program, $3 to $16.50 can be realized in benefit.

A UCLA study reported in the March-April 2006 edition of Addiction Professional, published by NAADAC, showed a 7:1 ratio of monetary benefits to addiction treatment dollars spent.

The George Washington University Medical Center program, Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems, in 2003 reported 7.4 percent of workers are addicted to or abuse alcohol, health-care costs for employees who have alcohol problems are about twice as high as the average employee, each untreated substance-abusing employee costs his or her employer an estimated $640 annually, and problem drinkers spend four times as many days in the hospital as the national average.

Chris Gibson, UnitedHealthcare was quoted in the April 2005 edition of HR Magazine, published by the Society of Human Resource Management: “. . . the best way to ensure an employee’s good health is to engage them in healthy lifestyles and to help them avoid getting sick in the first place. . . The five dimensions of total well-being: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and mind and spirit.”

DRINKING AND ILLICIT drug use on the job escapes no workplace. According to 2005 data from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 79 percent of the nation’s more than 16 million illicit drug users currently are employed either full- or part-time. More than 79 percent of the nation’s almost 52 million binge drinkers are employed, as are the almost 13 million heavy drinkers. Alcohol use and impairment in the workplace affects an estimated 15 percent of the U.S. workforce. Industries with the highest rates of alcohol and drug use among workers are the same as those already at a high risk for occupational accidents and injuries.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) produced a pamphlet, “How Drug Abuse Takes Profit Out of Business. How Drug Treatment Helps Put It Back.” On-the-job illicit drug use costs American employers billions each year. It noted substance abusers are absent from work three weeks more per year than the average worker. At one company, drug abusers filed twice the number of workers’ compensation claims, and the average disability claim costs employers $12,600. Each drug abuser uses 2.5-times more in medical benefits than non-drug abusing employees.

Indeed, Healthy Workers for Healthy Horses makes sense – dollars and sense.

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