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.
UPDATE: 6 JANUARY 2011
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.