Ergonomics of quad bikes – new research

While the New Zealand government is investigating agricultural safety issues, researchers from the University of Otago have looked at the ergonomic issues associated with the loss of control (LOC) of quad bikes by drivers.

According to a University of Otago media release, researchers Dr Stephan Milosavljevic and Dr Allan Carman published a paper in the current edition of Ergonomics.  The researchers

“….set out to analyse the driving behaviour of people who regularly use quad bikes, recognising a need to find out why people lose control of them so frequently.

Of the 30 male rural workers and farmers studied, 19 of them, or 63 percent, had experienced loss of control on a quad bike.  They were in their mid 40s on average, and about eight to nine years younger and less experienced than those who did not lose control.  Those who lost control traversed left- facing slopes differently to those who had not come off, tending to drift uphill.”

The abstract from Ergonomics says:

“Results indicate ATV LOC prevalence is considerably underestimated, while increased risk for LOC may be influenced by a combination of personal, mechanical or terrain factors.”

But the risk of riding quad bikes does not stay with rollovers.

“Dr Milosavljevic says the study also found high levels of vibration exposure from riding quad bikes that was potentially damaging to the spine, and which can also contribute to a disturbance of balance. Further research is investigating whether vibration exposure from riding a quad bike will affect a worker’s balance and body position sense.”

These areas of further research again focus attention on the design of the vehicles rather than their use.  Manufacturers emphasise the need for safe driving over design issues.

Prosecution over quad bike death

In March 2010, the NZ Dept of Labour (DoL) successfully prosecuted a honey production company for inadequately training a worker on quad bike riding.  The worker rolled the vehicle and died later from head injuries.  The DoL media release summarises the need for adequate training and induction, and not only on quad bikes:

“Masterton honey production company P. A .and S. C. Steens Limited was fined $78,000 in the Masterton District Court and ordered to pay reparation of $60,000 to the family of a beekeeper killed on 19 August 2008 when the ATV he was riding – without previous ATV experience and without a helmet – overturned.

The beekeeper had been among a group that was to service hives on a farm at Riversdale. Access was normally by 4WD but, because of poor weather and ground conditions, the company borrowed an ATV for the job. The beekeeper was given a basic demonstration in use of an ATV at the company’s base in Masterton before going to the farm, where the farm owner gave him a further demonstration on the farm ATV that he was to be riding. The ATV was later found overturned on the road near the entrance to the farm owner’s driveway, and the beekeeper, who had been riding without a helmet, died in hospital from the head injuries he received. No one saw the accident.”

Vibration risks are poorly considered

Following on from the Otago University research above, the risks associated with vibration received some new media attention in Australia recently.  A media statement reported that Whole Body Vibration (WBV) receives far less attention than Hand-Arm Vibration (HAV).  Partly this is due to the difficulty of measuring WBV.  The release mentions research that was undertaken through the University of Tennessee Institute for the Study of Human Vibration.

Although the Tennessee research is from 1999, the raising of WBV as an issue with quad bikes should be noted when planning the safe use of these vehicles.

Kevin Jones

4 thoughts on “Ergonomics of quad bikes – new research”

  1. I use a quad bike every day and can understand the concern regarding ergonomics.

    At 166cm, I am just a few centimetres taller than the average Australian female but find my body and arms at full stretch just to do a 90-degree turn our Suzuki Eiger quad bike. This also makes it more difficult to control the thumb-operated throttle precisely.

    On the other hand, the ancient Yamaha we\’ve just retired was a very different machine – easy to turn without stretching.

    I guess this just confirms that some design standards would be a great leap forward for quad bike safety.

  2. Another issue is that it appears that quad bike accidents and deaths are underrepresented in statistical analysis: their provenance is neither on the road, nor at a workplace ( seee – who is keeping stats on recreational use of vehicles?
    See, as an instance, http://www.watoday.com.au/wa-news/easter-quad-bike-ride-ends–in-tragedy-20100405-rm7z.html – \”It is unlikely the death will be counted as part of WA\’s Easter road toll, as the crash happened off-road.\”

  3. Forget about the intricacies of steering on left hand slopes! This research is skirting around the real issue, isn\’t it telling that \”63 percent, had experienced loss of control on a quad bike\”. That statistic tells me that these machines require a lot more than driver training and a helmet to make them safe.

    As I\’ve commented before, these machines are inherently unstable and unsafe – the basic design of quad bikes/atvs needs to be reviewed. The manufacturers of these machines are selling death and disability under the guise of either a useful farm vehicle, or worse as a thrilling \”sports machine\”.

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