Quad bike safety remains a hot topic in Australia

Prominent OHS unionist, Yossi Berger*, has attempted to place the issue of quad bike safety in the greater context of OHS In the latest issue of the Australian Workers’ Union’s Say Safety magazine (only available in hard copy).

Berger says that the current debate between safety advocates and vehicle manufacturers over quad bikes is the latest illustration of a debate that leads nowhere while workers continue to be injured and killed.

A current debate in Australia about quad bike safety

“…unfortunately looks like following a similar pattern. The use of this machine kills hundreds of riders around the world every year, and in Australia – occupationally – about 15 every year, mostly in farming.  It looks like the entire discussion (for improvement) is going to develop into another description of how not to achieve fundamental OHS improvements.”

Meanwhile, farmers continue to be injured or killed.  In may 2010, John Hortin, a Victorian farmer, spoke to the Weekly Times newspaper about his personal experience with a quad bike that rolled over and caused him serious injuries.  Hortin said:

“I don’t see how they can sell them or allow them to be ridden without a roll bar. It should be compulsory.”

ROPS image from Say Safety

WorkSafe responded to a request by the Weekly Times saying:

“Mandating specific safety requirements requires regulation. At the moment, we’re not generally seeing an appetite for increased regulation.”

This position supports many 0f the comments that Berger makes in Say Safety.  If one of the principles of OHS is prevention of injury why then not introduce legislation or regulation or design specifications and standards that make quad bikes safer?  Inaction allows for more injuries and deaths.

Berger summarises the quad bike safety debate well:

A classic case evolving at present has to do with continuing fatalities with quad bikes. The same tired, protective arguments (‘It’s the rider’), the same promotable villains approach (“It’s because he wasn’t wearing a helmet’), the same manufactured uncertainty (“Where is the scientific support for roll over protection devices?’). On the one hand some experts say these machines are unstable and lead to many fatal roll overs, whilst the industry says its rider behaviour that’s responsible for the fatalities. Surely, how can you argue with that?

In a letter published in the Geelong Advertiser on 3 May 2010 (not available online), Berger asked:

“I believe an open discussion about safety with quads must include quad design and reported proneness to rollover. Do the manufacturers need to consider a totally new design for some of their machines?”

On 5 May 2010, WorkSafe Victoria circulated a media release pointing out the ages of farmers injured since January 2009.  One of those listed was

“A 78 year-old man died [on 28 April 2010] at Maude, north-west of Geelong, when his quad bike overturned on a steep hill.”

This type of incident will continue to occur until the OHS regulators or manufacturers take decisive action for the purposes of reducing death and injury rather than trying to avoid responsibility.

Kevin Jones

In 2006 Yossi Berger received the WorkSafe Victoria Award for Outstanding Leadership and Contribution to Health and Safety.  In the award speech, CEO of WorkCover Victoria, Greg Tweedly said:

“Yossi is truly a legend in OHS – not just in Victoria, but nationally and internationally. Many of his exploits and achievements take on the characteristics of folklore.

This award is recognition of that status and recognition also of a working lifetime that has significantly contributed to the general body of knowledge on health and safety – and the standards we all take for granted….

…..his contribution to the body of knowledge about health and safety through his research and published writings is unrivalled.

He is a prodigious author on a range of related topics and a reference point on many….

He is passionate about health and safety. He has the extraordinary knack of going to the heart of a matter and expressing it in terms that speak to the fundamentals of the issue…

Yossi is not only a role model for many who work in the OHS field, particularly in a worker representation role.

He is a renowned mentor who is always willing to put in the effort to help develop anyone who is ‘fair dinkum’ about improving health and safety and share his experience and expertise with them.”

[Some of the Australian academics working on developing an official body of knowledge for the OHS profession may need to note Tweedly’s opinion on Berger’s contributions.  For an OHS body of knowledge to be authoritative, it would need to include Berger’s writings]

11 thoughts on “Quad bike safety remains a hot topic in Australia”

  1. Honestly, I can so hear what you are saying, but the problem is this:

    “You will always get accidents, no matter what vehicle – the difference comes down to training and knowing the limits of the machines!”
    Quad Bikes and ATVs are dangerous tools, no matter what they are used for….. but then, so is a tractor, a car, a motorcycle and a gun…..

    The only difference is that you can ride a Quad Bike or ATV on a car licence (in the UK you can) – of which you can not use any of the others apart from agricultural machinery.

    What we should see is one of two things:

    Testing – Anyone who rides or wants to ride a Quad or ATV should have to take a specific test designed for the machine – this would enable a correct education in what the Quad Bike or ATV can do if not used correctly.

    Training – If someone should have to use a machine like this, then they should have to go through specific training to make sure that they know how far a machine can be pushed before they will go over.

    The difference between the two would be a licence to regulate the useage of Quad Bikes and ATVs, thus making sure anyone who wishes to ride one on the road has the correct training for road use – and the other would be for those who have to use them for agircultural, commercial or any other general use in their daily working enviroment.

    I’m sure if you managed to get a big push from a petition of like minded people, any government would listed, especially when you consider the cost implication if anything happens, let alone the health and safety of the rider.

    Best of luck, and be safe.

  2. Can\’t agree more! Just one week ago one of my friends was injured during his quad biking tour in Ballarat Victoria.

    It\’s the time for goverment to take action on the high risk machinery of current design quad bike. Manufactures should never sell an unsafe product like this and push all the responsiblities out with a saying of \’improper operation\’.

  3. My comment is that we should be considering the Hierarchy of Controls when it comes to quad bikes, as we should with anything in and out of the workplace.

    As any good safety professional will tell you, PPE (i.e. helmets) is the lowest form of risk control, and administrative controls (i.e. training) is one step up.

    We should be considering higher controls such as engineering controls (rollover protection), or if that\’s not adequate, whether elimination and substitution of a less-hazardous practice is justified.

  4. Marian,
    Certainly in Queensland, the distances involved in accesing accredited training is a significant problem for property owners and managers. Along with, as you suggested, the cost of training casual or itinerate staff, does leave managers with a dilemma regarding quadbike training. It is important for legislators to identify the exact training required to comply with OHS obligations.
    A combination of passive roll over protection, risk management of accessories, training and PPE (in that order) is, in my opinion, the most effective way reduce injury and deaths on quadbikes.
    Dave

  5. Darren,
    Thanks for your contribution to this important topic. Firstly I have never advocated for compulsory fitment of ROPS for quadbikes, however it is important for those (workplace) users of a machine that has a propensity to roll over to seriously consider fitting equipment that will reduce the risk of injury in the event of roll over. The Quadbar is specifically designed not to be used in conjunction with rider restraint, as the quadbike is unchanged in its normal pattern of use, and the risk of horrendous injuries such as crushing and asphyxiation can be reduced.
    Your scenario of the quadbike in the water is an interesting one. There have been many cases of quadbikes overturning, pinning the rider in water and death is recorded as drowning, even in very shallow water.
    Whislt we both obviously agree that training has merit, my extensive experience in motorsport and international studies into driver training suggest that comprehensive training for drivers on the road has some, but limited benefit in the overall road toll.
    Quadbike training has the potential for most benefit for new users of quadbikes, but certainly there is potential for experienced users to refine their knowledge and skills, and the opportunity to overcome bad habits.
    Dave

  6. As a farmer just at the point of buying a new quad, I\’ve done a lot of research on what\’s safe and what\’s not. I would perfer to buy a UTV, which is not only safer but more practical, but just can\’t afford one. Instead, I\’m choosing one of the smaller quads that is easier to steer.

    I\’d like to be able to have all the people who ride our ATVs professionally trained but that\’s not affordable either. There are five of us and it would cost me a day\’s wages for each plus a cost of roughly $400 per person, so let\’s say $2800. I have invested in helmets at a cost of $170 each and walked each person through safe riding procedures.

    All of us are careful, slow riders and like wearing the helmets. We did have an adrenaline junkie who was very dismissive of the dangers, even after rolling a quad and trailer. Thank goodness, he no longer works for me.

    One of the five people in our team rides the ATV for an average of 1.5 hours per month and spends half of that time at a guaranteed 3km/hr or less (the speed that dairy cows walk). He\’s also a contractor. This type of very casual labour is incredibly common in agriculture and it\’s hard for farmers to justify full training for people who come and go. Because of this, I\’d support Darren\’s suggestion of a compulsory licence. This would make training a valuable commodity for casual labourers and contractors, who tend to fall through the gaps. It would also make it more acceptable to the adrenaline junkie I mentioned earlier.

    Let\’s apply some common sense: training is important, protection is too. Darren\’s comments about the parallels between ATVs and other work-related vehicles is perfect and should not be overlooked. I wonder how different the incidence rates are?

  7. Dave,
    I fully hear your point regarding weight of rider and cargo, but this is just adding to the debate of making sure people are fully trained and understand the way a Quad Bike and ATV will react if put through these situations and placed on the limit.

    Whenever you put something on it\’s limit, you will always encounter risk, no matter what the machine, be it car, bike or even a skateboard.

    This also covers articulated lorries – as there are more accidents whereby they turn over than there are Quad Bikes – and far more deaths. But should this mean that they should build roll cages in trucks?

    Honestly, I can so hear what you are saying, but the problem is this:

    \”You will always get accidents, no matter what vehicle – the difference comes down to training and knowing the limits of the machines!\”

    If correct training was given to each and every rider, it would reduce the amount of accidents – the other problem you have with making roll bars compulsory, is that you would nead a harness to stop you from being thrown off should the machine turn over.

    Picture this if you can;

    ATVs and Quad Bikes can go through water up to pretty much the same height as the fuel tank – the rider was using a roll bar mechanism and the machine went over….. extreme as it may sound, if the rider was wearing a backpack (which most do) – what would happen if it got trapped in the mechanism and the rider couldnt break free…?

    A huge negative against the roll bar, I know slightly extreme, but one that would have to be considered.

    Where you are taking slight risks using something like a Quad or ATV, you should be given an option to either have one fitted, or not – and not as you are suggesting, making it a compulsory measure across the board.

    Great topic, an would be interestiig to hear the views of the commercial and agricultural users – would it help them, or would it be more of a danger?

    Thanks for the response, and so quick.

    Darren

  8. Darren, training is an important step in quadbike safety!
    However training and experience dose not preclude a rider from injury or death. We know that meany very experienced quadbike riders (and users of cars and motorcycles) die every year.
    One tragic example that comes to mind is just before Christmas I received an heartbreaking email from a UK gentleman who lost his brother in law when his quad bike overturned. The gamekeeper was very experienced and trained.
    Due to the fact the weight of a rider (and possible cargo) relative to the weight of a quadbike,the varying terrains they are used,and meany other factors, makes determining when a quadbike is going to overturn difficult.
    Training is not the complete answer, nor ROPS for that matter.
    If genuine improvements in OH&S with quadbike use are to be made, meany arias must be considerd.
    Dave

  9. We seem to have a couple of issues, and whilst I support any efforts made to assist in the safety of riders of Quad Bikes and ATVs, we need to address one vital point.

    One of the major problems with users of ATVs and Quad Bikes in working conditions is correct training – which I think, is the monster objective. We just need to cast our minds back to times even when we were children, when offered the option to try something we had never done before, we would go all out to push something to the maximum.

    This does not change the older we get, and the feelings are much the same of excitement and thrill when we do something different in our daily lives, be it riding a Quad Bike or ATV, to taking a ride on a fair ground attraction.

    Unfortunately, the excitement and thrill/adrenaline can never be removed, and if they ever came up with something which you could switch on and off like a radio, then you would find the reduction of incidents far greater.

    But, this doesn\’t remove the fact that yes, Quad Bikes and ATVs are dangerous tools, no matter what they are used for….. but then, so is a tractor, a car, a motorcycle and a gun…..

    The only difference is that you can ride a Quad Bike or ATV on a car licence (in the UK you can) – of which you can not use any of the others apart from agricultural machinery.

    What we should see is one of two things:

    * Testing – Anyone who rides or wants to ride a Quad or ATV should have to take a specific test designed for the machine – this would enable a correct education in what the Quad Bike or ATV can do if not used correctly.

    * Training – If someone should have to use a machine like this, then they should have to go through specific training to make sure that they know how far a machine can be pushed before they will go over.

    The difference between the two would be a licence to regulate the useage of Quad Bikes and ATVs, thus making sure anyone who wishes to ride one on the road has the correct training for road use – and the other would be for those who have to use them for agircultural, commercial or any other general use in their daily working enviroment.

    I\’m sure if you managed to get a big push from a petition of like minded people, any government would listed, especially when you consider the cost implication if anything happens, let alone the health and safety of the rider.

    Best of luck, and be safe.

    Darren

  10. John Hortin in the Weekly Times article (above) is a very lucky man to be still alive. Let\’s learn from his experience (and the deaths and injuries of so many victoms each year). Rollover protection is vital.

  11. How many more deaths and permanent disabilities do we have to count before governments take action?

    Operating a quad bike in the current design configurations should be classified as operating high risk machinery.

    Do the lives of rural people count for so little?

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