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Metal for plastic : Xchanging’s role in reducing horse racing accidents in Australia

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Racing Victoria Ltd (RVL) was established in 2001 to provide independent governance of thoroughbred racing in Victoria as well as promoting and managing the conduct of the racing of thoroughbred horses in Victoria. Importantly, in late 2009, the RVL and its associated clubs decided to transfer their workers’ compensation to Xchanging. What precipitated this move? At that time, there were generally only two outcomes for claims – a full return to work or more often total long-term incapacity.

With this in mind, for the last three years, Xchanging worked closely with the RVL to implement a performance improvement strategy which provided $146,120 in funding with the unique intention of supplying and installing lightweight plastic running rails across all major racing clubs in Victoria. These rails were designed with the sole aim of replacing the aluminium running rails, which have been a major safety issue in the racing industry for many years.

The initiative was a world first, and has already had a huge human impact for jockeys across race tracks in Victoria. Darren Gauci, for example, is a jockey who has had big success on the race track, placing second in three Melbourne Cups. However, last year, Gauci’s horse crashed through the plastic rail at Mornington. He sustained a compressed fracture in his lower vertebrae, several broken ribs and a bruised aorta. Most significantly, Doctors told Darren that if the aluminium rails had still been in place, the accident could have been fatal. Though the injury was still severe, Darren returned to riding in April this year – just nine months after the injury.

The practical aspects of the initiative are just as illuminating. Premium rates have dropped significantly, resulting in a substantial reduction in premium. From the 2010/11 financial year to 2012/13, RVL’s premium has reduced by $775,000 and the provision of comprehensive training has seen a reduction in the number of standard claims lodged by RVL.

However, money saving initiate aside, there is also an unseen emotional aspect to these claims. RVL and Xchanging face great difficulty in convincing jockeys to go back to work in jobs that aren’t purely racing (racing is often the only career they have ever known or wanted and many left school at 14 for an apprenticeship and have no transferable skills or literacy). Recognising that, the treating doctor plays a vital role in encouraging workers to attempt retraining and alternative options. RVL employed Dr Gary Zimmerman as their Medical Consultant who treats the jockeys, and also consults with their specialists to ensure the treatment they are receiving is going to ensure a sustainable return to work outcome. Before being permitted to return to race riding, jockeys must obtain a medical clearance from Dr Zimmerman to prevent further injury.

By working with the RVL, Xchanging has managed to implement a shift in thinking – that retraining and finding alternative employment is a far better outcome for both the jockey and RVL. The real measures of success though are the workers who have managed to return to meaningful employment, though they have suffered terrible career-ending injuries.