The quad bike safety issue is hotting up on a range of fronts in Australia with the trade unions taking an active interest, meetings between bike manufacturers and safety designers, and the SafetyAtWorkBlog email box filling up with background content and opinion.
One of these emails reminded me of some court action that was taken in 2005 by Honda against the Victorian State Coroner, Graeme Johnstone. Johnstone only recently retired from the position after many years and over that time there were fewer more ardent safety advocates, particularly not any that had the same broad audience and media attention.
In 2005 Johnstone was conducting an inquest into several quad-bike related deaths. At one point he approached a witness outside of the Coronial process to seek their assistance in a training course. Representatives from Honda took exception to this and began court action in the Supreme Court of Victoria to have him dismissed from conducting the inquests.
Justice Tim Smith found Johnstone remained open-minded and impartial throughout the inquest but the unreported judgement available online illustrates some of the tensions of the time and continue to exist to this day.
The judgement mentions the purpose of the inquest:
“The major disputed issues in the inquest relevant to the present application were the following:
- whether the lack of roll-over structures on their ATVs caused the death of Mr Crole and Dr Shephard
- whether roll-over structures should be installed on ATVs
- whether the question of the provision of roll-over structures for ATVs should be investigated further.”
In describing the context of Johnstone’s contact with the witness, Dr Raphael Grzebieta, the judgement hints at the Coroner’s inquest findings (which are not available online)
“In addition, notwithstanding Dr Grzebieta’s conclusion that Dr Shepherd and Mr Crole [the deceased] would have been saved by the fitting of the roll bars and that this would be sufficient to justify a recommendation that they be fitted, the coroner expressed a provisional view that:
“My view at the moment is that it does not give me enough to recommend roll-over protection.””
The Victorian Coroner continues to be active in investigating quad-bike related deaths as seen in this newspaper article from earlier in 2009. A related article quotes John Merritt, WorkSafe’s executive director as saying:
“This inquest came about as a result of a terrible spate of fatalities in the past two years… WorkSafe’s position on this is clear. It believes that a quad bike is like any piece of farming equipment and those who use them need the appropriate training to be able to use them safely.”
If a quad bike is like any other piece of farming equipment, the equipment designers would be reviewing their designs to minimise the risk of injury as the field bin and silo manufacturers have, or the milk vat designers have or the windmill manufacturers have or, indeed , as have the tractor manufacturers who actively promote the safety features of their new tractors.
The unreported Supreme Court judgement provides a good indication of the major players in the quad bike safety discussion, particularly the expert witnesses for and against.
Many of the issues are resurfacing because safety and work practices continue to change and the only satisfactory resolution is when hazards are controlled and harm is reduced and, hopefully, eliminated. 2010 in Australia looks set to be a year when quad bike safety gets a good going over once more.