Favourable safety climate found at Sweden’s riding schools, trotting stables

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Proactive instead of reactive safety management should be promoted in Sweden's equine sector, researchers say.
Proactive instead of reactive safety management should be promoted in Sweden’s equine sector, researchers say. Photo by Lana Werper

The safety climate at Swedish riding schools and trotting stables surveyed in a just-published study was found to be generally good.

The findings were based on information collected from the employees and managers of six riding schools and six trotting stables in the central part of the country.

The Swedish equine sector is considered a high-risk work environment, with relatively high injury rates and high severity of injuries.

General safety research has identified a link between safety performance and safety culture, but little is known about the intricacies of the safety culture in the Swedish horse industry, especially around the perception of managers and employees of their work environment.

Researchers Cecilia Lindahl, Åsa Bergman Bruhn and Ing-Marie Andersson set out to evaluate horse facilities through the use of the Nordic Safety Climate Questionnaire.

The questionnaire was developed by a Nordic network of occupational safety researchers to assess the safety climate at workplaces. It is standardized and can be used for comparative studies to evaluate the safety climate status and safety climate interventions.

All permanent employees at the 12 selected workplaces were asked to complete the questionnaire. The riding schools had 4 to 15 employees, while the trotting stables had 3 to 8. They were a mix of full-time and part-time staff.

The study team also conducted individual interviews with 47 of the employees.

“The results showed that the safety climate was generally positive and that employees were aware of the risks relating to their work,” the researchers reported in the journal Animals.

“This shows that it is possible to have a good safety climate in a high-risk work environment.

“Riding schools commonly had routines in place for risk assessment and work environment management, but such routines were often lacking at trotting stables, indicating inadequate prioritisation of safety by the management.”

The researchers said the main area that should be targeted to improve safety in the sector is the need for employees to prioritise safety and not accept risks.

“The employees interviewed reported that they strive to work safely, but admitted taking calculated risks and sacrificing safety to gain time back or save their energy.

“There was a general acceptance of minor injuries as part of the job and a perception that many injuries cannot be prevented. This normalisation meant that incidents and accidents were ignored and thus not reported, discussed or followed up unless they were severe.

“This aspect of the equine safety culture should be targeted to improve safety and decrease occupational injuries.”

Proactive instead of reactive safety management should be promoted, they said, where safety is an integral part of daily work and all employees are encouraged to identify factors contributing to occupational injuries and develop strategies for injury prevention.

Management, they said, should foster a culture of safety awareness at all levels of the organisation and ensure that safety is an integral part of the daily work, not targeted solely when injuries occur.

“All injuries must be taken seriously and reported, and accident investigations should be used systematically to learn from negative events, identify factors contributing to occupational injuries and develop strategies for injury prevention.”

Employee participation and encouragement are further important factors, they said.

“In these ways, through continuous improvements to the safety climate, the safety culture in the equine sector can be improved over time.”

Lindahl and Andersson are with the Department of Agriculture and Food, part of the RISE Research Institutes of Sweden; and Bruhn is with Work Sciences, part of Sweden’s Dalarna University.

Lindahl, C.; Bergman Bruhn, Å.; Andersson, I.-M. Occupational Safety Climate in the Swedish Equine Sector. Animals 2022, 12, 438. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12040438

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

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