Britain’s racing industry responded well to lockdown challenges, study finds

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File image. By H. Hach

Most of the staff in Britain’s racing industry who continued to work during the country’s Covid-19 lockdown were happy that workplace changes prioritised their health and safety, the findings of a survey suggest.

Although coronavirus stopped British racing in March, most staff were classified as essential workers due to equine care and continued to work throughout lockdown.

Researchers who set out to investigate the impact of Covid‐19 on staff working practices within British racing noted that the physical and psychological impact of working during lockdown was unknown.

“Staff stress could have negative implications for racehorse welfare,” Emma Davies and her colleagues wrote in the open-access journal Animals.

To learn more about the situation, the study team conducted an online survey about working conditions within the industry during lockdown. It was answered by 287 participants.

The researchers reported that 53.7% of the staff surveyed were still working during lockdown.

“Racing grooms and stud staff were more likely to be working than most sectors, due to the timing of lockdown with the racing calendar and foaling season.”

Administrative staff were actually busier during lockdown, completing additional risk assessments or paperwork.

“Most staff reported that workplace changes were successful in protecting health and safety, but flat racing grooms felt that work-based changes were less effective,” the study team said.

Indeed, pandemic-specific workplace changes were reported as effective by 87.8% of those working.

Any negative perceptions centred around changes that affected the staff’s ability to complete daily tasks and thus influence the quality of care provided to horses in their charge.

“Trainers and part-time staff were concerned about job security,” the authors said, “highlighting a need for further employee support structures following the pandemic.”

The researchers concluded that the racing industry had prioritised staff health and safety but continued reflection on staff well-being, demands and working practices would maximise staff’s ability to care for horses under their care, and allow racing to maintain the highest standards of equine welfare.

Discussing their findings, the researchers said perceptions of job security after the pandemic continued to be a concern.

“Continued development of employee support structures to promote job security and workforce stability is advised, which will minimise the disruption of staff changes on the care and welfare of the horses.”

Most staff reported not accessing any financial help from racing or the government schemes during the lockdown.

Of those who did, the most commonly used support was the self‐employed income support scheme offered by the government.

In conclusion, the study team said the racing sector’s ability to swiftly and successfully develop Covid‐19 protocols to protect staff led to positive feedback and should be commended.

“The continuation of Covid‐19 information and staff guidance through national organisations, unions and charities is advised as this approach was positively received at the start of lockdown.

“There is some staff concern for future job security, and this should be a key area of focus for the industry moving forwards to ensure a stable workforce.

“Stability in the workforce ensures higher standards of care for the horse, as health and safety protocols and knowledge of individual horse’s requirements are less likely to be become diluted through continuous staff turnover.

“Further development of employee support structures, such as helplines, additional employee workshops, and financial support services to promote job security within the industry, following the pandemic are also advised.”

Davies is with Hartpury University. Her fellow researchers are Will McConn‐Palfreyman, with the University of Stirling; Jane Williams, who is also with Hartpury University; and Geoff Lovell, who is with the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia.

Davies, E.; McConn-Palfreyman, W.; Williams, J.M.; Lovell, G.P. The Impact of COVID-19 on Staff Working Practices in UK Horseracing. Animals 2020, 10, 2003.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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