Quad bike safety issues continue with no end in sight

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been following the discussions about safety of all-terrain vehicles and quad bikes for some time.  This is because the use of these vehicles encapsulate so many of the issues that workplace safety needs to deal with:

  • Safe design
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Hierarchy of controls
  • The line between private activity and work activity
  • Personal responsibility
  • The “nanny state”
  • Regulatory safety guidance
  • Industry-based codes of practice

On 19 December 2010, the New Zealand Sunday Star Times ran a feature article on quad bikes, written by Amanda Cropp (I can’t find the article online but please send a link if you can) entitled “Risky Business”.  The article is a fair summation of many of the perspectives and attitudes to quad bike safety.

For those readers who like statistics, Cropp writes that

“The annual ACC [Accident Compensation Corporation] bill for quad bike-related injuries is around $7 million, and Hobbs’ claim was among 2533 in 2009, a sizeable increase on the 457 new claims accepted in 2000.” [link added]

“….each year on average five people are killed in quad bike accidents [on farms] and 850 are injured. Researchers estimate 35 farmers come off their quad bikes every day and nine of them are hurt badly enough to take time off work to recover.”

“Quad bikes are responsible for almost a third of farm fatalities (40% with head injuries), and roll overs featured in more than half of all serious farm quad bike incidents investigated by the department [of Labour].” [link added]

Cropp also makes the significant point that the usage of quad bikes in New Zealand is substantially different to that in the United States.

“Unlike countries such as the US where they are largely a recreational vehicle, most of the 70,000-90,000 quad bikes in New Zealand are used in the agricultural sector, and it’s not unusual for a farmer to clock up 1000-plus hours a year in the saddle.”

This point should be remembered in any of the evidence on safety that the manufacturers provide in the antipodean inquiries.  In New Zealand and Australia, quad bike use is overwhelmingly a workplace issue and not recreational.  The vehicles are overwhelmingly purchased for work purposes and not racing.

A quad bike salesperson is quoted as describing the difference between recreational riders and farmers on PPE such as helmets:

‘‘Ninety percent of the time I get it thrown back in my face, they say, ‘I’m not wearing that bloody thing.’  It’s a different story when it comes to recreational [quad] bikers, they will have body protection, gloves, goggles, helmets and boots.  They have accidents far worse than farmers do but they have a lower injury rate.  They’re putting the machines way outside the manufacturers’ recommendations and not having the same issues.’’

It would be interesting to see any statistics that support his assertion of a lower injury rate for recreational riders, and if farmers are refusing to wear helmets as the only PPE at the moment, clearly continuing to advocate helmet use is not an effective control measure and alternatives are required.

Cropp provides a good intro to the hot topic of roll-over protective structures (ROPS).  Cropp reports, surprisingly, that 15% of quad bikes on New Zealand farms are already fitted with ROPS.  She outlines the manufacturers’ objections to the devices, objections which stop the NZ Department of Labour making more extensive safety recommendations on ROPS.

Dave Robertson, manufacturer of the QuadBar ROPS is quoted in the article as saying that quad bike manufacturers have stymied sales of his $500 products.  Interestingly Cropp reports that the ACC has purchased ten quadbars for testing.

Cropp outlines the quad bike manufacturers relationship with Robertson:

“Last year (2009) the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) wrote to Robertson on behalf of the leading Australian distributors of quad bikes urging him to cease marketing of the Quadbar because it was unsafe.

The letter warned that if anyone was injured by a Quadbar and made a claim against a quad bike distributor or its parent company, they would in turn ‘‘seek indemnity’’ from Robertson in respect of the claim.” (links added)

Bill Grice, the CEO of Suzuki New Zealand, states clearly the industry approach to safety.  His comments are more forthright than usual from industry representatives:

‘‘We’ve got to take the focus off the design of the machines and put it on riding habits and a better attitude towards them.  I think the design is perfect if it’s used within the design parameters of all the brands, and they’re very similar.  The problem is where they are used outside of that because they’re very versatile and may not be the right machine for the job.’’

Grice’s comments are peculiar and would unlikely be accepted in other areas of workplace safety.  His comment on the design being perfect could have been made by other manufacturers of equipment that now requires guarding – conveyor belts, guillotines, bread dough mixers, tractors,…….

Australian engineer John Lambert, is reported as recommending some quad bike redesigns:

“He says redesigning the cargo racks would prevent them being used to carry passengers and changing the seat design and handlebar grips would make it much harder for under 16-year-olds to ride quad bikes (between 2000 and 2006, quad bike accidents killed 16 youngsters in this age group, hospitalised 218 and permanently disabled six).”

Lambert produced a detailed report on quad bike safety in November 2010 which he is prepared to email to people on request.  Click HERE for his email details.  His report concludes with the following recommendations:

  • “Redesign of the seat squad and its location to prevent most people significantly younger than 16 years of age from being able to ride these quad bikes;
  • Redesign of the seat squad to limit the space to one rider;
  • Redesign of the handlebar grips to make them larger to prevent most people significantly younger than 16 years of age from being able to ride these quad bikes;
  • Redesign of the cargo carrying racks at the front and back to prevent them being used for seating passengers;
  • Attachment of a rollover/tipover ameliorating device at the rear of the quad bike to limit the degree of rollover and tipover, and minimise the likelihood of crush injury, lost circulation to limbs leading to death, asphyxiation or drowning;
  • Redesign of the area of the foot wells to minimise the likelihood of crush injury, lost circulation to limbs leading to death, asphyxiation or drowning in a 90 degree rollover; and
  • Fitting dual axis accelerometer based slope warning devices.”

In the context of Grice’s comments above, it is surprising that the manufacturers are not seeing improved safety (through design or ROPS) as a major selling point of their quad bikes.  Many major and international manufacturers trade on the safety reputation of their products but quad bike manufacturers do not.  Car and motorcycle manufacturers regularly produce concept designs that seem absurd but anticipate technological and energy trends.  Quad bike manufacturers do not seem interested.  It is this perception of “disinterest” in safety that is an increasing public relations danger for quad bike manufacturers.

It is possible for the manufacturers to move to the front foot on safety by, perhaps, running a safety design contest under the banner of “safety innovation”.  There need be no guarantee that the designs will be introduced and innovation does not mean that what already exists in unsafe, only that everything can be improved.

Manufacturers could also consider including safe riding training for free if rider behaviour is so crucial to the safe operation of quad bikes and, as Cropp mentions, training is becoming expensive for farmers.

It is reasonable and right for the technical safety issues to be researched and there will always be debate on evidence but for the debate to continue in a cyclical argument when farmers and workers continue to die is becoming immoral.  That no OHS regulator in Australia or New Zealand is prepared to break this cycle is also disappointing.

Australia is in the final stages of national harmonisation of OHS legislation.  This may auger a new national attitude to OHS compliance and OHS issues.  The government has already introduced new Australian Consumer Law which, amongst other changes, has introduced”

  • “a new national law guaranteeing consumer rights when buying goods and services, which replaces existing laws on conditions and warranties;
  • a new national product safety law and enforcement system”

It would be a sad indictment of the quad bike manufacturers if they were forced to change because of factors external to the OHS debate.

Kevin Jones


In January 2011, an Australian ATV Distributors’ Position Paper was released to industry stakeholders about quad bike safety.  (SafetyAtWorkBlog has discussed with a member of the industry association about public access to this document.)  A slightly edited version of the conclusion is below:

“ATVs are important and popular for farm applications (in particular) due to their versatility and economy. They are safe if used correctly and in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations and warnings (as posted on the ATV itself, as outlined in the operator’s manual and safety video and as demonstrated in rider-training). Australian and international statistics demonstrate that the risk of accidents on ATVs is significantly lower relative to other modes of transport.

Unfortunately, operator misuse and error are the single greatest cause of ATV injury and deaths.  While the FCAI and Distributors will do everything they are reasonably able to promote safe use of ATVs, the measures available to them are limited.  In particular, they are unable to compel new or existing ATV owners and operators to undergo training or to wear helmets.

ROPS are unsuitable for ATVs. They have been examined and rejected by the US and UK regulatory authorities and associated bodies. Any ROPS would have significantly detrimental effects on the operation and safety of ATVs.”

There are several statements in this quote that are very contentious – the comparison to other modes of transport, the “single greatest cause of ATV injury and deaths” and that any ROPS would have significant detrimental effect on quad bikes.  The debate will clearly continue.

reservoir, victoria, australia

20 thoughts on “Quad bike safety issues continue with no end in sight”

  1. My name is William Berner, I am a freelance journalist.
    I am writing a story on the dangers posed by quad bikes which do not have roll-over protective structures (ROPS) fitted.
    If anybody would like to talk to me about the need for greater safety controls or have been in a quad bike accident, please email me:

  2. Peter\’s comment is very relevant, though it is not just weight that is the issue.
    The original Honda 3 wheel ATC110 weighed 115 kg and it takes a force of 38 kg to initiate lift a rear wheel. And the point of rollover is reached at a lift of 450 mm when the force has dropped to zero.
    My Polaris 330 Trail Boss in comparison weighs 252 kg (well below the average mass of current empty quad bikes of 290 kg) and it takes a force of 128 kg to lift either a front or rear wheel or the outer edge of the cargo rack. This is beyond the ability of almost all people to exert while trapped under a quad, even if they are in their back and could \”bench press\” to lift the quad.
    Further to lift the upside down Polaris to the point where it will tipover requires a lift of about 710 mm by lifting the edge of both cargo racks – lifting one rack only results in one or other end of the quad lifting so the quad will not rollover – and its impossible for someone on their back to lift a quad high enough to tip it over. The 95% Australian or New Zealand male, with a rack separation distance of 1200 mm, can only lift the quad 685mm, and the average person can only lift it about 525 mm. Hence once a rider is trapped under a quad bike they have almost no chance of getting out from under it on flat ground.
    And this is a strong argument for making an anti-tipover/ anti-rollover device mandatory, especially as most people using quad bikes for work operate on their own.

  3. Everyone may be barking up the wrong tree.
    From experience the problem with ATVs is the constantly increasing weight that shows no sign of reaching any sensible limit.
    We had a few rolls with our first one on the farm here but nothing came of it but the new one is frightening.
    Already we have had several close calls and it is entirely to do with weight.
    The weight is where the danger is.

  4. I have supplied a detailed critique of the industry position paper in which i conclude:
    \”The “AUSTRALIAN ATV DISTRIBUTORS’ POSITION PAPER January 2010 is a discredit to the Distributors and the author(s). It relies on “research” by DRI that is not worth the paper it is written on (and FCIA has been aware this research is questionable since 2004); and contains misleading statements, some of which are prima facie deliberately misleading. It also includes contents and statements for which there is no supporting evidence – in some of these a cursory investigation of the facts by the writer shows them to be false.
    Most disappointing is the fact that this paper reflects the FCIA and Distributors are NOT committed to the safe ownership and operation of quad bikes – this is shown by the fact they refuse to consider or action changes in the design of quad bikes that would make them safer!”
    I would be happy to supply the same to anyone, and would also be happy to receive critical comments on my work

  5. Good, informative article


    You\’re right, the arguments do go on and on as if to give us all a sense of infinity. In all my years in OHS I\’ve only ever found one or two managers who were persuaded by argument. And even then it was only because I successfully demonstrated that the manager\’s assessment of the hazards and risks on site were completely wrong.

    All he had to do is to genuinely encourage his workers to talk honestly and not fear for their jobs or long term intimidation. They then very accurately identified a number of very serious hazards.

    He was not the local manager, but a much more highly placed manager for this national company, and a decent man.

    If that\’s largely true, and we all know the idiotic arguments industry used (and uses) in relation to asbestos, lead, benzene, parathion ethyl …. etc., and we\’re aware of the favourite past time of manufacturing uncertainty, then a powerful agent of change may be extended and constructive public exposure. Open public debate and discussion.

    In the light of that maybe it would be useful to create an international information hub about quad incidents and general information as to their safety. Perhaps this blog could trigger such a hub?

    1. Yossi, a quad bike safety blog is a good idea as long as it is managed or edited by someone who is independent of the manufacturers, distributors, regulators and users. It would be a big task but ultimately, and globally, rewarding. However, cost of running such a project is always a big question.

      Until such a resource is set up over the long term, SafetyAtWorkBlog will continue to report on he debate for, as I said in the article, the debate reflects many important elements of workplace safety and product safety

  6. The signs are clear.
    New Zealand Coroners have been screaming to governement for ROPS to be made mandatory on quadbikes.
    The Department of Labour in New Zealands own University commissioned studies has identified ROPS as a priority to combat pinning of riders underneath quadbikes.
    DOL staff that I have spoken to are also calling for the fitment of ROPS, and finally;
    The past years fatalities in new Zealnd involved roll overs and potentially their death rate could be zero if ROPS had been fitted to those vehicles.

    A ten year old can work out the best solution would be the fitment of ROPS, but what seems to have pissed people off in New Zealand is the NZ Minister pictured on a quadbike with bull bars (that remove the claimed safety features of a quadbike – soft sides) whilst launching an OH&S quadbike policy that is subservient to the quadbike manufacturers.
    This complicitness to the manufacturers is demonstrated in Media reports on the day of the Ministers OHS campaign launch
    \”The department\’s chief health and safety adviser Dr Geraint Emrys said…..\”the campaign was a re-emphasis of the guidelines, particularly around the manufacturers\’ recommendations. \”
    Emrys described his strategy for enforcement, as follows…
    \”Under the campaign\’s enforcement focus, in the course of visiting other jobs the inspectors are being instructed to stop farmers they see riding dangerously on quad bikes.\”

    The focus areas of the campign are children and quads, helmets, rider experience and using the right machine for the job according to the Minister and Emrys. Any wonder \”FarmSafe chairman Charlie Pedersen questions the ability and resources of the department to realistically enforce health and safety rules around quad bike use in rural New Zealand through inspectors.
    \’I have enough trouble at times finding my own staff out on the farm let alone anyone else going out to look for them,\’ he said
    Pedersen saw little new in the latest safety initiative that had not already been put out in the ATV Guidelines, developed nine years ago from NZ and Australian research.
    \’Personally I find it a bit rich to be coming up with four points of safety that have been in those guidelines for years.\’\”

    Roger Barton wrote in response to this campaign that the upper echelons are \”working in a silo\”. After spending a substantial amount of his own time away from the farm assisting in the early discussions he is personally disheartened and disgusted by not being included in the ensuing decision making process.
    From Emrys comments, it indicates that the Department is intent on aligning themselves with the manufacturers, to blame the victim. It is a bit like blaming the horse for getting out of the paddock when they should have fixed the fence first.

  7. Thanks Kevin for continuing to raise this important area. It is fascinating to note that the key OHS case last year in Australia, the High Court\’s decision in Kirk [2010] HCA 1 http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/2010/1.html, involved what I assume was a quad bike (they call it an ATV in the reports but sounds like the same thing.) And one of the problems of the HCA decision was the classic \”blame the driver for bad decisions\” reasoning.

  8. Who gives a damn about the manufacturers guidelines, if the equipment is proven to be a killer and the solutions have been presented and refused then the only obvious solution is to ban the sale of these vehicles until they comply with a standard of ROPS.

    I would suggest that the near immediate action by distributors of equipment in this country would be to harangue the manufacturers into compliance. Simple but very effective \”hip pocket\” nerve manipulation to achieve a good outcome.

    The same solution should be applied to any dangerous equipment where there is a proven need for \”engineered protection\” which should be OME fitted given a proven need (history of injuries or obvious need) for such protection.

    There is a whole other story out there involving equipment used in our daily employment endeavours, which should meet certain minimum safety standards before they are sold and be certified as such before sales can take place. The supply of product information sheets loaded with warnings does not cut it!

    1. Tony, as the Canadian TV report that I mention in a comment above discusses, product safety law (outside of the OHS process) may be the strongest motivation for change. Australia\’s new national consumer law has only existed for a few days but I can see great potential in applying these laws to work-related equipment.

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