New Zealand farm advocates talk briefly on quad bike safety

New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) has released some statistics on quad bike incidents in support of its attendance at field days in mid-June 2010 and the release of three new agricultural safety publications.  The media release quotes research from the Otago University.

“Three farmers or agricultural workers died and nearly 300 were injured in quad bike accidents on farms last year, according to ACC claims figures.

Recent research from Otago University forecast that in any given year farm workers will lose control of quad bikes on approximately 12,645 occasions, resulting in about 1400 injuries.  Not all of these will be registered as workplace injury claims with ACC.”

The risk of jumping to conclusions from these statistics is that the ACC is not only concerned with workplace incidents and hence the conditional sentence at the end of the quote.

From the quote above  it may be possible to establish a statistical pyramid based on the fatalities, for those who like that sort of thing:

Quad bikes can be dangerous pieces of farm equipment but the ACC provides a statistical contrast with a more traditional agricultural hazard:

“Nearly 1,700 farm workers were injured by cattle last year and those injuries cost New Zealand nearly $6 million in ACC claims alone.”

Although a government investigation into farm safety in New Zealand is still being conducted, the ACC spokesperson told one newspaper that helmets were paramount, one farming advocate and a local MP stressed that training and education are the principal control measures.  One farm industry representative emphasised the need for supervision:

“There is also the need to apply correct handling procedures when using machinery like quad bikes. They are designed to do a job on the farm and that doesn’t include wheelies on wet or frosty paddocks or using them on hillsides that would be marginal to a 4×4 tractor,” said Mr Ewing [Federated Farmers North Otago president].

“In other words, use safety first every time and keep the children off them. Quad bikes are not toys…” [link added]

No one has looked beyond personal protective equipment or education in the use of quad bikes in this current round of media attention but a better design by manufacturers seems to be the more logical strategy, particularly when the ACC identifies a range of other health issues generated by quad bike use:

“If you’re going to get killed on the farm, there’s a good chance that a quad bike is likely to be involved.

If you’re going to get a sore back – and 60% of farmers suffer from this – it’s very likely it will caused (or at least made worse) by the amount of time spent riding a quad bike.

And while we’re on the 60% figure, some researchers have found out that 60.8% of quad bike riding farmers will experience a loss of control event sometime in their working life.”

The ACC has stated in its new quad bike safety publication (a publication that is “Endorsed by the New Zealand Agricultural Health and Safety Council”) that

Quad bikes are inherently unstable. They have a narrow wheel-base and a high centre of gravity. They have a type of tyre designed to grip on soft ground but on the road they can grip suddenly and tip over before you have time to react.” [emphasis added]

The 2010 quad bike guidance does not mention ROPS as has occurred in the last 6 months in at least one Australian OHS guideline.

The final report into farm safety being undertaken by the New Zealand government has not yet been completed or released, clarification is being sought from NZ Department of Labour (DoL).  It is highly unlikely that the quad bike safety advice from DoL would differ greatly from that issued by the ACC but ACC is not a safety regulator in the same vein as DoL.  The ACC does not have the legislative clout of DoL so we will have to wait and see what advice the DoL provides.  What is clear is the issue of design safety of quad bikes is yet to be resolved.

Kevin Jones

4 thoughts on “New Zealand farm advocates talk briefly on quad bike safety”

  1. Hi Kevin,

    This transcript left me feeling really sad.

    – The obvious disdain of townspeople (albeit this fellow is obviously a shock jock) for farmers

    – The reluctance of farmers to speak up for themselves

    – Deaths do occur – of course – and farming presents extra OHS challenges because:

    o Farmers can’t possibly have procedures for everything we do. Imagine if we saw a drowning bull and before rescuing it, sat down to write a procedure. This unlikely scenario wouldn’t be envisaged in advance. Having said that, our farm does have procedures for animal handling and all the other basic areas of the farm. In town life, the job of a farmer would be divvied up into at least these professions: vets, agronomists, plant operators, animal nutritionists, quality controllers, mechanics, croppers, chemists, administrators, animal handlers and…OHS officers. Aside from those above, we have separate sets of procedures for milking cows, crops, maintenance, records, dealing with contractors and suppliers, vehicles and fodder. Take a look at the milking one and you’ll see how much is involved in this one simple task. I can’t honestly expect everyone to remember every step in each of these procedures but I do hope they help to instil a safety culture on farm.

    o Farms generally aren’t as profitable as urban businesses. Some years, maintenance simply has to suffer. Although we do keep machinery in safe working order, our tracks are hideous this year because we couldn’t afford to have them resurfaced last year.

    o Farmers have to work in hazardous conditions that few others do – such as frosts, hail, heat, dark – because you’re dealing with animals that live outdoors.

    o Farmers are like other small business people (jugglers with too much on their plates) but have the added disadvantage of working 7 days per week and a love of the outdoors (often incompatible with paperwork and protocol-writing).

    o Farmers value their independence and do tend to resent others imposing rules on them – partly because they’ve mostly never been employees and partly because government is generally out of touch with farm life.

    – Just as in any industry, there are some idiots out there but we\’re not all like that.

    What else can I say?

  2. Marian,

    I agree that tractors continue to be a big hazard. The quote from the ACC in its quad bike guide was very surprising and implies that New Zealand has got tractors under control which I would be very surprised over.

    A colleague has drawn my attention to New Zealand talk back radio program which editorialises about quad bike risks, fatalities and the farming sector in New Zealand. It is available to listen to at http://tinyurl.com/2e3drzv

    Some of the talkback callers to Michael Laws\’ program say that farmers have a \”cavalier attitude\” to safety and don\’t wear helmets on quad bikes unless the boss is watching. Laws has been an outspoken critic of the approach by the Farmers Federation to farm safety. If you have a chance to get a copy of the full transcript of his 17 June 2010 program you may be shocked by some of his opinions and those of his callers.

  3. “If you’re going to get killed on the farm, there’s a good chance that a quad bike is likely to be involved.\”

    Hang on! Look at these Aussie figures regarding the cause of work-related deaths on Victorian farms released a day or so ago:

    \”Farming fatalities notified to WorkSafe Victoria in 2010:

    • 17 June: A 42-year-old woman working in a vineyard died when she was hit by a branch blown from a tree in high winds at Woori Yallock in the Yarra Valley.
    • 11 May: A 33-year-old farmer was crushed under a grain silo weighing about 15 tonnes collapsed at Wyuna in northern Victoria.
    • 28 April: A 78-year-old man died at Maude, north-west of Geelong, when his quad bike overturned on a steep hill.
    • 15 March: A 65-year-old father and his 35 year-old son died near Rainbow in the state’s west when a metal windmill they were moving (using a tractor with a forklift attachment) made contact with a power line.
    • 28 February: A 24-year-old man died at Bruarong, south of Yackandandah, when the tractor he was driving tipped over.
    • 17 February: A 73-year-old man died near Donald in north-west Victoria, after being run over by a tractor.

    Farming fatalities notified to WorkSafe Victoria in 2009:

    • 23 November: A 62-year-old man died on a Werribee market garden after being run-over by a trailer attached to a tractor.
    • 12 October: A 45-year-old man died near Portland, after being run over by a tractor.
    • 06 October: A 46-year-old man died in the Yarra Valley, after becoming entangled in wire while spraying using a tractor.
    • 12 May: An 86-year-old man died after being run over by a tractor.
    • 29 March: An 82-year-old man died, after being run over by a tractor at Dollar in South Gippsland.
    • 1 March: A 78-year-old man died in hospital after his quad bike rolled down an embankment at Mountainview in West Gippsland several weeks previously.
    • 21 February: A boy under 2 years of age died at Creswick, near Ballarat, after being run over by a tractor.
    • 14 January: A 58-year-old man died in East Gippsland after falling from his horse while mustering at Wulgulmerang.\”

    Looks to me like tractors are the biggie.

  4. \”inherently unstable\” Now look at some ofv he manufacturers and distributors marketing of these death machines. Fun! You would not believe there was any serious risk at all.
    Governments have to get the guts to take on the designers, manufacturers and enforce the requirement for safe design of plant.
    Im not familiar with NZ legislation, but for the most part our laws in Australia require safe design – why is this not being acted on?

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