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.”
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.
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]