A study at Hartpury University suggests the vast majority of people working with the UK horseracing industry believe changes made to their working practices as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic have been effective in maintaining health and safety.
As a result of Covid-19, the sport was suspended by the British Horseracing Authority from 18 March 2020, and additional site measures enforced, to protect the health and safety of the public and to limit demands on the NHS.
Flat racing returned behind closed doors on 1 June 2020, after receiving the green light from the government, with jump racing returning today under the same arrangement with strict hygiene measures in place.
A research team comprising Emma Davies, Equine Science lecturer and PhD student at Hartpury University; Geoff Lovell, Professor in Sports Psychology at Hartpury University; Dr Jane Williams, Associate Professor and Head of Research at Hartpury University; and Dr Will McConn-Palfreyman, Sport Psychologist at Sport Scotland Institute of Sport, investigated the effects of Covid-19 on staff working practices during the initial lockdown phases.
The research was aimed at anyone working in the horseracing industry across the UK, including staff working directly with horses and staff working in administration or management roles.
The results have been released soon after a similar survey by the CIPD found that 44 per cent of UK employees across different sectors and occupations agreed they felt anxious about returning to their workplace because of Covid-19.
Emma Davies said: “Most workplace changes made to working practices in the horseracing industry as a result of the pandemic were perceived by virtually nine out 10 staff as effective for maintaining health and safety of the employees.
“The most common changes were increased distancing measures, additional handwashing facilities and restricting the number of staff permitted on site during the pandemic, in line with both Government and the horseracing industry’s guidance.
“There was a consensus that everyone was doing the best they could, and a positive attitude was expressed towards how well the racing industry has handled the pandemic.
“Our recommendations would be for the racing industry to continue to deliver Covid-19 information and staff guidance and to make this available to all sectors of the industry through national organisations, unions and charities, as this approach was positively received by staff at the start of lockdown.
“It would also be beneficial to consider a review of effective social distancing measures for training yards now racing has resumed, with full staffing capacities and more horses now in full exercise.
“This may aid to reduce safety concerns for those working in yards and support those staff who are riding out.”
A total of 287 participants completed an online survey about working practices during the pandemic.
The survey consisted of 18 closed, and three open questions, and was available during the initial phase of lockdown restrictions via social media.
The majority of participants worked in training yards or were working at racecourses.
More than half of all participants were still working during the lockdown period, but while most administrative staff were able to work from home, those working directly with horses continued attending work due to the daily responsibility for the horses in their care.
Those who had accommodation provided as part of their role in racing were more likely to be working than those who did not.
More than two-thirds of staff reported a positive perception of their likely job security three months after the start of lockdown, but concerns were raised about job security in the longer term.
Dr Jane Williams said: “There is some concern from staff working about job security following the pandemic, and this should be a key area of focus for the racing industry moving forwards.
“The continuation and further development of employee support structures, such as helplines, additional workshops for employees, and financial support services, to promote job security within the industry following the pandemic are a necessity.
“The horseracing sector has previously reported retention issues, and the pandemic may further impact recruitment and retention for the next 18 months.”
This latest study is among a number of ways in which Hartpury University, based only 13 miles from Cheltenham Racecourse, works with the UK horseracing industry.
Hartpury University’s specialist undergraduate degrees – BA (Hons) International Horseracing Business and BSc (Hons) Racehorse Performance and Rehabilitation – are driven by industry professionals to enable graduates to succeed in the global horseracing industry.