Quad Bikes – industry response

On 30 November 2009, the CEO of The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Andrew McKellar, responded to some of the issues raised in recent SafetyAtWorkBlog articles concerning the safety of quad bikes.

McKellar emphasised that a balanced approach to ATV safety discussions is required.  He said:

“In terms of a statistical outcome, the results show that, on balance, [ROPS] does not result in a safer outcome, in some situations people are going to be killed where otherwise they would have been fine.  In other circumstances, they will survive an accident or a rollover accident where they might have been seriously injured if they hadn’t had it…….There is no clear safety benefit from putting such structures on those vehicles.”

As has been shown in previous articles many Australian and New Zealand OHS regulators have not recommended ROPS for quad bikes.  This indicates that there must be some convincing evidence that ROPS are inappropriate.  But that leaves the same problem with quad bikes in 2009 that existed decades ago, people are becoming injured or are dying from the (mis)use of these vehicles.

In most other vehicle and manufacturing circumstances consistent misuse would indicate that the vehicle itself and the interaction between driver and vehicle requires considerable investigation and/or redesign.  The investigation by Ralph Nader was referred to in an earlier article as an example of unsafe design being engineered out.

Equipment designers in a range of industries strive to make their equipment foolproof but there does not seem to be same motivation in the quad bike manufacturing industry which still advocates helmets as the best hazard control option.  This option is supported by calls for safe driving courses and keeping within the manufacturers’ specifications.

Helmets may be best practice at the moment but it is hard to believe that that is where the situation should stay.  By not progressing beyond this control option, manufacturers and safety regulators are focusing on rider awareness in a sector, agriculture, that is renowned for taking (inventive) shortcuts and whose principal workforce are men who have a macho dismissive attitude to safety.  A new approach is required.

Kevin Jones

Categories business, OHS, PPE, risk, safety, transport, UncategorizedTags , , ,

3 thoughts on “Quad Bikes – industry response”

  1. Marian

    Thanks for writing in.

    I take your point about ROPS on tractors. The last time I was on a tractor in a wheat field I was in an air conditioned cabin. The first time was many years earlier in a nylon shirt under a trap stretched out from the ROPS. Design has changed substantially to incorporate the safety needs of the driver as well as the thermal comfort. Fatigue management, safe design, emergency communications all incorporated into a workplace that increases productivity.

    A similar investigation into upgrading the design of quad-bikes is what seems to be missing from this agricultural industry.

    It seems silly to sell a machine that has the capacity to carry additional equipment that shifts the balance of the machine and then relies on the driver to shift weight to counterbalance. This seems an unrealistic control measure unless there are no other options, such as safer design or ROPS, available. I have yet to see any investigation in the control options that are the upper levels of the hierarchy of controls.

  2. As well as being a PR professional with an OHS specialty, I am a dairyfarmer and an employer. We have two quad bikes and they are an indispensible tool but, yes, we do have to use them appropriately. On our flat to gently undulating farm, that means at no more than 10km/hr when towing or going over bumpy ground and no more than 30km/hr on smooth, formed tracks – with a helmet on.

    WorkSafe has advised me that a ROPS would make the bikes less stable and therefore even more prone to rollover.

    I think Col is barking up the wrong tree with the ROPS though. At the same time, tractors with fully enclosed cabs started to become the norm (more affordable) on farms. These days, ROPS are increasingly rare as a result and it’s much, much, much harder to fall out of a tractor with a cab and doors.

  3. There is one critical bit of information that is frustratingly and curiously missing from the debate on using a roll over bar on a quad bike. It’s critical because it goes right to the heart of the core question: will a roll over bar, in the absence of a seat belt save lives?

    The number of Victoria’s fatalities from tractor roll-overs has plummeted since installation of ROPs was made mandatory.

    This suggests a very simple survey is essential.

    Visit 500 farmers in Victoria, “look them straight in the eye” and ask: “How often do you wear your seat belt when you are using your tractor?”

    If that simple survey shows, as I’d expect it will almost inevitable will show, that seat belt wearing frequency ranges from never to bugger all, then surely we have all the information we need. Hmmm?

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