Respiratory Hazards for Latino Horse Farm Workers

Posted on by Jennifer E. Swanberg, Ph.D., MMHS, OTR and Jess Miller Clouser, MPH

With the upcoming Belmont Stakes and the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, all eyes are on the world of horse racing. These races are the culmination of years of work far from the glory of the grand stage of horse racing. What is not seen on this grand stage is that there are many workplace safety and health risks faced by the workers who help get the horses to this level of competition. A recent article in the  American Journal of Industrial Medicine,Individual and Occupational Characteristics Associated with Respiratory Symptoms among Latino Horse Farm Workers”, documents these hazards. Key points of the article are summarized below. 

The agriculture industry is known to be dangerous, especially for Latinos, with the risk of injury or death for Latino farmworkers the greatest among all ethnic groups [BLS, 2006; Byler 2013].   Within agriculture, the animal production sector is particularly hazardous, with illness and injury rates greater than all other agricultural jobs [Meyers and Chapman, 2001]. In the horse breeding industry, one segment of the animal production sector, research on worker safety and health is limited. Workers on horse farms are exposed to several occupational hazards, including horse kicks, bites, and falls; strenuous labor duties and repetitive motion that could result in musculoskeletal injury; and dusts containing various respiratory hazards.

Over two-thirds of the 460,000 full-time workers in the horse industry are estimated to be either Latino or foreign-born [AHC, 2005]. A recent study of thoroughbred farms in the Southeast indicates that half of the year-round farmworker workforce was Latino [Swanberg et al., 2013]. This research is the first to examine the prevalence of respiratory symptoms among Latino horse workers.

Prior research has shown particles in horse barn air may contain a variety of respiratory irritants and toxins that may compromise human respiratory function including: high levels of general dust, endotoxins, mold, β(1,3)-glucans, horse hair and dander, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, various toxic chemicals, and sawdust, metal, and silica particles. Our research found that 62% of the 225 Latino horse worker study participants reported experiencing respiratory symptoms, with cough as the most common lower respiratory symptom. In the general population, respiratory symptom reporting is much lower. The prevalence of cough among adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Survey 2007-2012 was about 11% in adults in contrast to 44% in this study [CDC,2012]. Although this difference is extreme, it is consistent with other studies that have found strong and significant differences in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms between equine workers and workers in other areas of agriculture and the general population.

A chief difference between our study and other studies of equine workers is that our study focused specifically on Latino farmworkers, most of whom were born in Mexico. Other studies of the general population have found that Latinos, and Mexican–Americans specifically, experienced reduced odds for obstructive lung disease (OLD) compared to whites [Diaz et al., 2014]. The fact that our sample, which was entirely comprised of Latino and chiefly of Mexican-born workers, experienced even greater odds of respiratory symptoms, such as cough, than was reported by the general population or even Latinos, suggests that this worker group may experience environmental exposures which differ from the general population [i.e. Mazan et al., 2009].

This is one of the first studies to examine respiratory health among a medically underserved population that works in a high risk industry and further research is warranted. It is important to educate workers and owners/managers at horse farms or other livestock operations with enclosed spaces that wearing a dust mask may help to prevent long-term respiratory damage. Dust mask utilization is a relatively easy and potentially low-cost approach for preventing adverse respiratory health among workers on horse farms. Additional information on this study can be found in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

A related article about the safety perspectives and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) by thoroughbred farm management may also be found in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

For more information on the Thoroughbred Worker Safety and Health Research Program, please visit:

For more information from NIOSH on safety and health in the horse-racing industry see the website.

Information on hazards faced by jockeys and others working with horses is highlighted in a related  blog.


Jennifer E. Swanberg, Ph.D., MMHS, OTR, University of Maryland School of Social Work

Jess Miller Clouser, MPH, University of Kentucky College of Public Health


This research was funded by a NIOSH Cooperative Agreement through the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention.

For more information on the NIOSH Agricultural Safety and Health Centers visit the website.



American Horse Council. 2005. The economic impact of the horse industry on the United States national report.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2006. Fatal occupational injuries, employment, and rates of fatal occupational injuries by selected worker characteristics, occupations, and industries, 2006. Available online:

Byler C. 2013. Hispanic/Latino fatal occupational injury rates. Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2012. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data III. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2007–2012.

Diaz AA, Come CE, Mannino DM, Pinto-Planco V, Divo MJ, Bigelow C, Celli B. 2014. Obstructive lung disease in Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites. Chest 145:282289.

Mazan MR, Svatek J, Maranda L, Christiani D, Ghio A, Nadeau J. 2009. Questionnaire assessment of airway disease symptoms in equine barn personnel. Occ Med 59:220225.

Swanberg JE, Clouser JM, Westneat S, Marsh K, Reed D. 2013. Occupational injuries on thoroughbred horse farms: A description of Latino and non-Latino workers’ experiences. Int J Env Res Pubic Health 10:65006516.





Posted on by Jennifer E. Swanberg, Ph.D., MMHS, OTR and Jess Miller Clouser, MPH

2 comments on “Respiratory Hazards for Latino Horse Farm Workers”

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    Well I think a problem here is regulation. The same people who are paid below the value of their work due to illegal immigration likely don’t know about or don’t care about certain health issues, or their employers don’t. It’s the same environment of no regulation that will conduce health problems for workers. I know from experience that tree removal services (and related arboricultural practices, which is where my experience lies) require serious harm reduction measures, as do most licensed trades. However, if you’re not even legally in the country… what’s the immediate risk of not being safe from chronic illness due to your job?

    This was a good read, informative and honestly, a good reminder of how things can sometimes work in certain circumstances.

    Do you guys have any figures for the amount of such workers who came illegally? Curious if I made a feasible point… Thank you.


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Page last updated: April 18, 2024