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|Peggy Goetsch's Statement to U.S. House Subcommittee|
|12/19/2005 - Below is the text of Winners Federation President Peggy Goetsch to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the United States House of RepresentativesCommerce and Energy Committee. The statement was a follow-up to the subcommittee's hearings in November on catastrophic insurance for jockeys.
Statement of Peggy Goetsch, President of the Winners Federation
To the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, United States House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee
My name is Peggy Goetsch, and I am president of the Winners Federation, a national organization composed of health and industry executives committed to a healthy, safe working environment for all racetrack workers. In addition, for the past 23 years I have been the executive director of the Racing Industry Charitable Foundation, which offers comprehensive health services to workers at Illinois racetracks. I offer my comments to the subcommittee’s recent hearings on jockey health and insurance in my capacity as president of the Winners Federation.
The Winners Federation believes that the health and safety of the jockeys are the most important considerations. Beyond the current issue of insurance coverage, the Winners Federation has four interrelated concerns for the future:
1. No comprehensive data are available on how many jockeys and riders are injured each year, the extent of those injuries, how much work time is lost to those injuries, and the economic impact of those injuries on the worker, the employer, and the industry generally.
2. The industry has no structures to address the high risk of accident and injury among the sport’s riders. Data from riders’ injuries and lost-time incidents most likely would provide some insights into the causes of the accidents and ways to prevent them.
3. How to keep the cost of insurance coverage, once it is obtained for all riders, from becoming onerous for all stakeholders because of the accident rates associated with a high-speed and highly dangerous sport.
4. For those states that have workers’ compensation coverage or will adopt it in the future, how to keep the cost of coverage from becoming prohibitive for employers, specifically horse owners and trainers.
Riding in races and preparing those horses for their races through gallops or workouts are highly dangerous activities that sometimes result in unavoidable accidents, such as when a horse sustains a sudden, catastrophic injury and the rider is hurled to the ground. But other accidents result from human error, such as a jockey being unaware that another horse is closing ground rapidly and then changing course in a way that interferes with or causes a collision with the other horse. Some of these accidents occur in the heat of competition; others are the result of impairment of one or more persons directly or indirectly involved in on-track accidents.
As noted above, no data on jockey injuries have been gathered over the past century or more, save for the record of deaths and permanently disabled jockeys maintained by the Jockeys’ Guild. That no data have been gathered is, to an extent, explainable from a number of viewpoints. First, racing was regarded as a largely local or regional activity until the past decade. Despite such high-profile, nationally known races at the Kentucky Derby, racetracks saw their market as circumscribed by a 35-mile radius. Beginning in the mid-1990s, however, full-card simulcast wagering changed that perspective. Among other effects, the transformation of racing into a national electronic-wagering sport led in the Thoroughbred industry to the formation of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), which sought to act as a national regulatory and marketing office for the sport as a whole. While addressing a number of pressing issues within the sport, the NTRA has not specifically turned its resources to the human safety aspects of horse racing. The advent of universal full-card simulcasting also brought together the three major horse racing segments—Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, and Standardbred (harness)—into one package of wagering opportunities.
Another reason for the shortage of data has been that stakeholders in the sport did not necessarily want to gather the information. Lack of resources certainly has impeded the Jockeys’ Guild from gathering such information on injuries to riders, including its dues-paying members. Others—principally horse owners, trainers, racetracks, and industry organizations—undoubtedly had concerns over what comprehensive data on jockey and rider injuries would reveal and how that data would be used and interpreted.
Horse racing is certainly not alone in having a high risk of accident and disability. The difference is that most industries in the national economy have gathered—or have been required to gather—data on how many workers are injured on the job and how those injuries occurred. In many of those industries, the incidences of lost-time injuries have been reduced by examination of the data by qualified professionals and development of structures and strategies to address the conclusions drawn from that data.
To be sure, racing has addressed safety issues for jockeys, but largely on an anecdotal, seat-of-the-pants basis. Common sense dictated that fixed upright poles on the inner rail of the racetrack posed a danger to jockeys thrown from their mounts, and various types of safety rails were designed and installed. Similarly, many harness tracks have replaced the hub rail with pylons. Still, these responses were instigated by one or several incidents and not as the result of a comprehensive review of data. Another area where horse racing has lagged behind other industries is the examination of the human aspects of lost-time injuries and the development of strategies to address problems that may lead to injury or death. For instance, other industries have adopted employee assistance programs as a method of reducing their costs for health and accident insurance through reductions in lost-time accidents and absenteeism. Typically, these employee assistance programs provide education, evaluation, counseling, and, if necessary, referrals for such health issues as stress, depression, substance abuse, and addictions.
Statistics compiled by the federal government and private industry clearly demonstrate the efficacy of EAPs in reducing injuries and absences in the workplace. In several racing states, including many of the largest jurisdictions, backstretch employee-assistance programs are offered for licensees, including jockeys. These programs have differing names that may not clearly identify them as EAP providers. Some examples:
New York—Backstretch Employee Services Team.
Churchill Downs in Kentucky--Lifestyle Program of Churchill Downs.
Illinois—Racing Industry Charitable Foundation.
Maryland—Horsemen’s Assistance Program
Massachusetts and New Hampshire—The Eighth Pole.
Delaware—Backstretch Employee Assistance Program.
Moreover, EAP services are provided in some instances by Race Track Chaplaincy of America chaplains who are accredited counselors, such as Retama Park in Texas and others. Thus, a wide-ranging network of employee-assistance services is available to jockeys and exercise riders. In some cases, jockeys have availed themselves of these services, and, in many cases, they have not. While the jockey is the most visible member of the racing industry, it also should be noted that he or she is the last individual involved in a complex human process of getting a horse from the farm to the starting gate. Thus, it is important that all individuals involved with the care and handling of the horse have EAP services available to them. As noted above, this is not the case. Indeed, the Winners Federation believes that the health and safety of all racetrack workers are necessary components in putting a healthy, competitive racehorse on the track.
Recent cases of deaths and serious injuries to jockeys and other racetrack workers have led the Winners Federation to commit itself to gathering data on jockey injuries and to utilize resources inside and outside the racing industry to develop strategies for reducing accidents and lost-time injuries. Specifically, the Winners Federation would:
• As its first priority, establish a Horse Racing Industry Accident and Injury Surveillance Program in cooperation with industry organizations. This surveillance program would be established in cooperation with an academic provider experienced in conducting health surveillance and reporting data resulting from that surveillance.
• After an appropriate period of information-gathering, bring together stakeholders and experts to assess the data and develop strategies for reducing lost-time injuries and accidents.
• Develop a compendium of best practices intended to reduce on-track accidents that lead to lost-time injuries for jockeys and other riders.
• Undertake research projects specifically related to the health and safety of jockeys and riders.
• Convene an advisory council of current and former riders to provide first-hand input on the stresses related to their work.
• Develop seminars on jockey health issues.
• Develop a model for a drug-free workplace in the jockeys’ room.
• Assist accredited EAP programs to publicize their services specifically to jockeys and exercise riders.
• In time, create the National Health Center for the Horse Racing Industry, to serve as a clearinghouse for information on this vitally important concern and as a forum for developing new strategies for improving the health and safety of all racetrack workers, including jockeys.
To provide these services, the Winners Federation proposes to solicit both cooperation and financial support from within the industry. The Winners Federation will work to undertake this project with the support of national organizations, including but not limited to the Jockeys’ Guild, The Jockey Club, the American Quarter Horse Association, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, the Association of Racing Commissioners International, the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association, the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the National Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and the American Academy of Equine Practitioners.
The Winners Federation believes that the Horse Racing Industry Accident and Injury Surveillance Program constitutes a necessary first step toward implementation of its action plan and to improved health and safety of jockeys and riders in the United States.
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