Australia’s Comcare issues safety alert on quad bikes

On 22 January 2010 Comcare issued a safety alert concerning the use of quad bikes (available on the Comcare website from 25 January 2010):

“Employers who own and operate quad bikes should be aware of the hazards and potential safety risks.

Following some recent accidents while operating quad bikes, a draft Code of Practice is currently being developed by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and Distributors [FCAI] relating to the ‘Use of All Terrain Vehicles in the Workplace’.

Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) has also formed a working party comprising of OHS Regulators and industry representatives to look at strategies to improve quad bike safety.

Who is affected?
Anyone operating a quad bike.

Safety points to consider

  • Certified training should be given to anyone who will be riding the quad bike prior to it being used. Certified training should be provided at the point of sale.  If purchasing a Yamaha the correct training is the Stephen Galls Ride Smart, Ride Safe program.  If purchasing a Honda the correct training program is the H.A.R.T. program.  Reading a manual or viewing an instructional video should be done in conjunction with certified training
  • Quad bikes can roll easily, especially on loose terrain or any area where hazards may be present
  • Ensure to operate the quad bike within the manufacturer’s guidelines
  • Consider fitting Roll Over Protection Systems (ROPS) to quad bikes for extra safety
  • Inexperienced riders are at particular risk. Ensure that inexperienced riders have received the proper certified training before riding a quad bike
  • The capacity to carry or tow a load is extremely limited. Quad bikes must never be used to carry or tow a load on any terrain that is not level and flat
  • Helmets are compulsory quad bike apparel
  • Ensure quad bikes are properly serviced
  • Risk assessments, where applicable, should be undertaken prior to operation.” [links added]

There are several issues that are of interest from this alert.

Significantly Comcare has chosen the term “quad bike” over “ATV” (All-Terrain Vehicle).  This acknowledges that the bikes cannot travel over all terrains.

The motivation for the alert was “recent quad bike incidents”.  This motivation could have applied to many years in recent memory.  SafetyAtWorkBlog readers would be well aware of the increased union pressure over these vehicles.  It is understood that some of the discussion between union and quad bike manufacturing representatives has been heated.

Tension has existed over the safety of this type of farm vehicle for some time.  One blog has carried considerable commentary on the issue recently,  SafetyAtWorkBlog participated.

It may also be a significant coincidence (if there can be such a thing) that the New Zealand government is in the middle of a short public comments phase of an inquiry into the safety of farm vehicles.

Commercial training programs gain free promotion and it will be interesting to see how consistent the training components will be.  If a farm has two different brand of quad bikes, does this mean that two sets of training are required?  Surely a training course that is independent of brand would be more sensible.

To some extent the safety alert seems rushed as describing any safety training course as the “correct” one is very peculiar.  This effectively is an endorsement by Comcare with the implication that any other courses are somehow “wrong” when they may just be less appropriate.

Comcare stating that “Quad bikes can roll easily, especially on loose terrain or any area where hazards may be present” is also peculiar even though it reflects reality.  The vehicles are to be used on farms.  It is hard to see anywhere in those workplaces where hazards are not present.  One of the contentious areas in the debate on quad bike safety is exactly what has contributed to the propensity for rollovers – overloading, driver behaviour, angle of terrain, centre of gravity, sheep jumping at you………

Operating within manufacturer’s guidelines is a reasonable reassurance but this is followed by the big contentious issue – Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS).  This either shows a major concession by the quad bike manufacturers or a misstep by Comcare.  The issue of ROPS has been a source of enormous tension between safety advocates and manufacturers.  There has been a bunfight over scientific analyses of the propensity for quad bikes to rollover or tip with both extremes presenting their own “independent” scientific analyses.

“Inexperienced riding” is an interesting inclusion.  Many farmers allow their children to ride and operator quad bikes on the farm.  Comcare states that these riders need “certified training”.  The two training organisations mentioned in the safety alert were contacted.  A representative of H.A.R.T. said that the minimum age for quad bike training was 16 years and no motorcycle licence was required.

According to the website of the ATV Safety Institute, apparently the providers of the training course that has evolved from the Stephen Galls Ride Smart, Ride Safe:

“Individuals six years of age and older may take the class.  Riders younger than 16 are restricted to ATVs of the appropriate size recommended for the rider’s age.  There are special teaching provisions for students younger than 16, and parents are encouraged to attend as well.  Students younger than 12 participate in separate classes, and a parent must be present during the entire course.”

Whether this training is for conduct within a workplace is unclear but the implication from “ATVs of the appropriate size recommended for the rider’s age” is that this is for recreational use, as quad bikes for work purposes are likely to be full-size.

The last point of interest is the advice from Comcare that

“Quad bikes must never be used to carry or tow a load on any terrain that is not level and flat”

It is hard to see any farmer following this advice.  It is also difficult to see that this fits with the manufacturers’ advice.  Will quad bikes only be sold to farmers who have flat and level paddocks?  This needs clarification from Comcare before farmers start to think that OHS advice is written by “mad city dwellers who don’t know udders from horns”.

The timing of the safety alert seems odd, if the motivations above are discarded.  Certainly quadbikes are in use at the moment on farms.  Australia is in the middle of Summer which means droughts and fires in some areas and floods in others.  Through these environments quad bikes will continue to be used where possible but perhaps the alert is to help farmers decide exactly the “where possible” in their particular circumstances.

The oddity comes from an assumption that “inexperienced riders” means children as well as inexperienced adult riders.  Most Australian States are entering their last week of school holidays.  If the alert partly relates to children on quad bikes, it is a little late for this Summer.

It is clear that the safety alert raises or compounds some safety issues and Comcare may have plans to expand or clarify the points in the alert as the HWSA working group gets under way.

The FCAI draft code of practice is close to completion, according to a representative of the FCAI contacted this afternoon.

Comcare has been contacted for clarification on the reasons for issuing the safety alert and their response will be included in an update.

Safety organisations should be applauded for issuing alerts and information about hazards.  That is part of their task.  It just seems, in this case, the timing perhaps could have been better.

Kevin Jones

UPDATE 25 January 2010

The quad bike safety alert is now available from Comcare’s website directly by clicking HERE.

8 thoughts on “Australia’s Comcare issues safety alert on quad bikes”

  1. Kevin, I agree that training is very important and that the equipment should always be designed for maximum safety. But, You can\’t design anything that can compensate for not using common sense or under the influence. In my research I\’ve found that a high percentage of accidents using A.T.V.s and U.T.V.s
    occure while loading and unloading. Please go to my web site and review my ramp system. I am trying to get it introduced into the corporate safety arena. Please offer any ideas you may have.

  2. Officials warned people to be careful while using off-road vehicles. They stress that with so many people out riding for the holiday this weekend, the risk of something happening is much greater.

  3. This is very true, when using quad bikes for work related matters employers need to make sure that people using them have been properly trained. Accidents can be sudden and dangerous if using quad bikes without proper training.

    1. Chris, you are right to empasise training but a lot less training is required if safety is included in the initial design of anything. Engineering controls, such as a roll bar, are a much more efficient way of improving safety.

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