NZ Coroner presses for changes in quad bike safety

One of New Zealand’s coroners, Ian Smith, has set a safety challenge to the OHS regulatory and quad bike distributors.  In the coronial findings (not available online) into the 2008 death of 21-year-old beekeeper, Jody Santos, Coroner Smith has recommended to the Ministers for Transport and Labour:

“The Court endorses the new educational and enforcement programme being proposed by the Department of Labour, but considers that both Ministries undertake an immediate investigation to consider the mandatory installation of:

(i) The compulsory wearing of helmets when operating ATVs in any circumstances; and

(ii) The installation of a roll bar on all A TVs/quad bikes; and

(iii) The installation of lap belts on all ATVs/quad bikes.”

The Department of Labour (DoL) specifically requested that the Coroner remove the mandatory installation recommendation.  DoL had used the death of Jody Santos as a case study of helmet use and employer responsibility.  The DoL also announced on 7 January 2011 that it is investigating another quad bike death.

Why not make helmet wearing mandatory? Mandatory motorcycle helmets are now standard in many countries, how are quad bike risks different.  In July 2010 Federated Farmers president Don Nicolson said

“…education and training is the only way to make quad bikes safer and regulations are not going to work because they cannot be enforced inside the farm gate.”

This says more about the attitudes of Nicolson about his members than it does about the safety of his members.

It was not as if the Coroner’s findings are a surprise.  In July 2010, the Coroner said:

”I don’t know what I have to do to get this sorted _ I’m seriously at my wit’s end,” he said……

He called for minimum safety requirements for quad bikes including full or partial roll bars, lap belts and the compulsory use of safety helmets.

”For goodness sake, why can we not get these three simple, lifesaving things on a quad bike?” …”

Coroner Smith also stated in his finding that he supported the DoL’s recently announced awareness campaign on quad bike safety but:

“…. I still do not believe that it goes far enough and will have the desired outcome.”

The comments have generated various responses in the New Zealand press but none yet from the Ministers themselves.

Significantly the Coroner included in his findings comments from the DoL to an earlier draft of the findings.  The DoL stated that

“Your provisional recommendation also includes investigation around the mandatory installation of lap belts on all quad bikes. The Department has carried out extensive investigation into the practicability of lap belts. The design of quad bikes is similar to that of motorcycles, in that they are a vehicle that is ‘ridden on’ rather than ‘driven in’………..The Department considers that the need ‘active riding’ of quad bikes makes it unsafe for a restraint belt to be worn, regardless of whether or not some form of roll-over protective structure (ROPS) is fitted. For these reasons, the Department has decided against the inclusion of a mandatory requirement for lap belts on all quad bikes.”

The SafetyAtWorkBlog also questions the practicality of lap belts, a control device particularly relevant to the death of Jody Santos as he was catapulted from the quad bike and died later from injuries  sustained.  Lapbelts have proven to be an important technical safety device on forklifts but the  device is almost always never worn because it impedes the tasks done by the driver.

The debate of lap belts is too narrow and should include restraint mechanisms other than belts.  There may be devices that can provide some protection and allow for the active ride but few are investigating such devices.  And the challenge would be more easily met if these devices were integrated into the design of the quad bike rather than providing an uncomfortably fitting safety add-on.

The Coroner is also specific about rollbars or rollover protective structures:

“The issue of a roll over bar is still an important aspect of safety. Given the high volume and usage within NZ of these machines I believe the Department of Labour and Authorities are able to impose pressure on the 13 manufacturers to adapt the machines to incorporate a roll bar configuration. It is not rocket science.”

It is not rocket science and the Coroner is right in questioning why the OHS authorities are hesitant in pressuring the manufacturers to “to incorporate a roll bar configuration.” (my emphasis)  Although the Coroner included in his findings photos of a ROPS that looked very much like the QuadBar, he is asking for ROPS from the manufacturers and not as a safety accessory.  The manufacturers should be offering an integrated ROPS as a design option in quad bikes.

Some of the media response to Coroner Smith’s comments include this from the  Department of Labour national support manager Mike Munnelly

“A lap belt or restraining system makes it extremely difficult for a rider to make these safety corrections  [active riding] and exposes them to increased danger,” Mr Munnelly said.  …….”The science supporting roll-over protection bars being fitted to quad bikes is far from complete.  If the science does prove the value of these bars then the department will support their introduction.”

Perhaps the DoL needs to look more closely at an independent assessment to determine the science rather than from those with a vested interest in quad bike manufacturer or ROPS installation.  Such research and evidence is available in Australia and will be reported on shortly in SafetyAtWorkBlog.

Coroner Smith’s comments have reached the Australian media with one article headed “NZ slammed over quad bike safety”.  This article reports that

“Some farmers say lap belts would reduce their ability to ride quad bikes properly, thereby making them more unsafe.”

We would emphasis this is on quad bikes as they are currently designed.  Unless the quad bike manufacturers and distributors begin to provide quad bikes that have appropriate safety devices as part of the quad bike design, the debate will continue, the coroners will criticise the quad bike industry and the OHS regulators, and the OHS regulators will be caught in the middle.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

13 thoughts on “NZ Coroner presses for changes in quad bike safety”

  1. I would like to put forward two issues for you all to think about.

    Firstly mandatory hardware will cause safety issues for other quad users. Namely the adventure sport rider. Lap belts and ROPS will hurt us. We regularly push the machines close to their limits and so rolling sideways on very steep hills happens. We dismount very quickly and allow the quad to carry on rolling down the hill out of control, belts and Rops will mean we stay with the machine or become entangled with it thus getting hurt. By all means I fully support encouraging farmers to install the ROPS as an accessory.
    Passengers should only be carried over rough terrain by machines so designed FULL STOP. In-fact I do not understand why more farmers are not using the longer wheel base 2-UP machines as they are much more stable over rough terrain and have a greatly enhances GVM. To tip one of the big can-am max\’s over backwards, even the very skilled adventure rider is literally peeing his pants, it want happen by accident.

    Secondly, as an experienced Cert iv mining trainer I know full well how empowering safety methodologies such as TAKE 5 are in the work place. A training program will have the biggest positive effect on Quad accidents in the work place. Especially if it encompasses the use of PPE. When to use diffident systems and how to use them correctly. Not wearing helmets is simply DUMB. And yes hundreds of farm workers will be very anti this type of PPE as were mine workers 30 years ago with the introduction of steel caped boots and hard hats and as they were 15 years ago with safety glasses. Training and having the correct PPE/accessorised equipment at hand is the key.

    There will always be a situation where PPE will be dangerous (Glasses fogging up in high humidity) thus the advanced training methodologies of systems like TAKE 5 are so important.

    Tim Forsyth,
    FN Qld.

    1. Tim, this blog has never discussed the safety of the adventure sport rider. Those quad bikes are in a different category to the work-related quad bikes and the operation of them inhabits a different legislative and risk structure.

  2. Marian McD
    I offer you a cyber hand shake!!
    I have been succesful in getting 2 OSH lead staffers on farm for a working day.
    One in 2003 and the other in 2010. The first guy came during lambing (9th Sept) and within an hour said he couldn\’t believe how many times I got on and off the machine. He was vehemnetly opposed to the carrying of passengers and in a meeting in Wellington (7 floors up and with air conditioning) even lambasted farmers for carrying dogs as passengers.
    Over the day he looked to become entirely comfortable as a passenger. We headed up a steepish track and I made him sit on the inside and as we returned got him to swap sides (inside of track again) so I could mange the descent more comfortably for both machine and man. I think he finally realised that risks can be taken AND managed if we have a will to do so. The other OSH staffer had a similar opinion re passengers. I made her get off and walk down one nasty bit. Better for both of us.

  3. When I donated the Quadbar to farmsafe (some 2 years ago) I did not know who was to trial it. Roger\’s comment are his own assesment and his comments re \”on/off\” are correct and very relevent.
    Due to the Quadbar height, seat restraint is incompatible as the roll over protection is of a \”passive\” nature and is below the riders head. In the Quadbar owners manual, the use of an operator restraint is forbidden.

  4. Glad not to be the only farmer here, Roger! I\’ve invited several OHS people to spend a day on our Victorian dairy farm to get a feel for how the quads are used but not had anyone take up the offer yet.

    Here\’s the dairy farm equivalent of your example: putting up a temporary fence on our farm today took 25 minutes and involved getting on and off to open three gates, three directional tapes, put in nine posts (nine on/offs in 200 metres of travel at walking speed on flat, smooth ground) and close one of the three gates again: a grand total of 15 on/offs. We\’ve done 19,000 kms on our main quad in three years.

    While it\’s one thing to design in safety, it\’s a basic principle of good design that the innovation does not encourage its bypass by being too much of an obstruction. A seat belt on a quad is the classic example of a safety initiative that might make the OHS consultant feel great but would not do anything to protect the safety of workers who\’d just refuse to use them.

  5. I\’ve wandered through various of these BLOGS and want to make a few comments re our coroner\’s comments.
    The prospect of full roll over protection PLUS a lap belt scares me witless.
    If i rolled on my hill country I could do up to 300 metres trapped in the machine. Certain death and injury. I have a Q Bar on one of my Quads and nothing on the other. The Q Bar was the first into the country and donated by Dave R and fitted by Grant Hadfield from FARMSAFE. I\’ve yet to \”use\” it and don\’t intend to! But it is miles ahead of the T Bar I once fitted. The Q Bar is at a sensible height and can be adjusted for riders head height.
    The other morning I counted how many times I got on and off the Quad in an hour and a half (on and off=1). The tally was 47! I did nothing out of the ordinary to rack up that tally.
    If Mr Smith thinks that I am going to use a lap belt I\’ve got news for him. If I was tagging lambs i suspect my total \”on/off\” for the day would exceed 300 and probably be nearer 400. I do around 600 hours per year on a Quad and am aware of larger operations wher the shepherds do 1000 hours per year.
    If we make these machines safer there will always be someone who wants to challenge that safety yet again. I\’m hard on self responsibilty, aproppriate riding behaviour and MAINTENANCE (especially tyre quality).
    These machines are an integarl part of nearly every livestock operation in NZ and there may be refinements in design but fundamentally they are superb machines allowing high levels of work efficiency at acceptable cost. We\’d be stuffed without them!

  6. Tony, do you also plan to call for a ban on trucks, commercial vans and other \”death traps\” like cars? Many more people are killed on the roads in cars and trucks while they are at work than on quads. Also, tractors are a far more common cause of farm deaths than quads. What about nail guns and chainsaws – are you targeting banning those as well? Where would you draw the line?

    Simply banning quads doesn\’t make sense to me and in fact muddies the waters itself. If the real question is about ROPS on quads, let\’s stick to that.

  7. Marian, your last post suggests active riding techniques on slopes and gully crossings should be encouraged. It is my contention that slopes and gullies provide a good part of the problem where quad bikes are in use and to traverse that type of terrain without protection is asking for trouble.

    One unexpected rock or dip in the ground can cause an unexpected tipping point on what a \”driver\” might see as a reasonable slope.

    I stick with my suggestion of banning the sale of these death traps until such time as ROPS at least are fitted. Farmers have an obligation like anyone else in relation to OHSW requirements. For example: the fitting of inlet guarding on grain augers is mandatory because idiots kept putting hands and feet in the exposed flight section while the auger was in operation in an attempt to get the last few grains up the tube, with horrendous injuries resulting. like many other products used on farms OHSW standards are mandatory.

    If farmers and other commercial users see this type of vehicle as essential for their operational purposes, I am sure the quad bike suppliers will come to the party with ROPS in a very short time indeed.

    It is very interesting to see the vested interest lobby being very quick to try and muddy the waters on the issue. The question is \”how many lives would have been saved had those killed while riding quad bikes not fitted with ROPS had in fact been fitted with ROPS?\”

    Why anyone would ride a quad bike at 80 kph in a working environment is beyond me. We can\’t legislate stupidity out of the equation but we sure can punish it.

  8. BTW, it is prudent to practise \”active riding\” techniques on slopes, such as gully crossings, even at low speeds.

  9. There seem to be a few issues in this one: speed, helmets, restraints and how to get action.

    Travelling at 80km/hr on a quad bike is outrageous and my own farm has speed limits of 30km/hr. I would formally warn an employee who did that (while wishing I could sack him or her on the spot). The Santos case sounds like genuine operator error, if ever there was one. To be fair though, the manufacturers do share some responsibility here – I recently purchased a new quad and could not find a model with a speed governor.

    We have implemented mandatory helmet use too, without complaint from anyone here, but do desperately need clarification on what is the \”appropriate standard\” for off-road use of an ATV. The wearing of a road helmet at very slow speeds in the heat brings a whole new set of hazards.

    Tony – I\’d suggest talk of banning ATVs could backfire. Might just have the tendency to make farmers think OHS is unrealistic b*##.

  10. I share your concern over the \”active riding\” element of the discussion. As a motorcycle rider myself, I understand active riding, a practice that cannot be avoided on motorcycles.

    It seems to me that the need for active riding increases in proportion to the speed of the vehicle. In what circumstances are speeds of over 30km/h required on a farm? If the quadbike is registered for road use there could be an argument for higher speeds (and mandatory helmet use) but this does increase the risk of injury if that speed is also applied in a non-road circumstance.

    It should be noted that the Coroner\’s findings included the following:

    \”…the actual speed that Mr Santos was travelling at the time of the accident was undetermined but a witness who had seen Mr Santos driving along Homewood Road just prior noted that he was not wearing a helmet and was travelling at an estimated speed of 80 Kilometre per hour.\”

    The Coroner had earlier established that Mr Santos was fairly inexperieinced with riding a quad bike although Mr Santos said he had experieince rising motorcycles.

    The evidence of a representative of the Police Serious Crash unit is important in understanding the Coroner\’s arguments:

    \” [the constable] stated that Mr Santos has lost control of the ATV as he attempted to turn into the farm drive and the vehicle has rolled over, catapulting Mr Santos onto the road….\”

  11. Quad bike are proven killers as they are today and we have bureaucrats sitting around pontificating about the science of injury prevention when the coroner along with the greater safety community have already identified ROPS as a desirable safety goal.

    Given that Quad bikes are a 4 wheel vehicle not a motor bike there is no reason why a personal restraint device can\’t be used to ensure the \”driver\” maintains a seated position. Active riding is a nonsense for Quad bikes and should be reserved for motor bikes where active riding is needed for balance. Any need for \”active\” riding on a quad bike automatically shows the Quad is being used in a dangerous situation therefore the need for ROPS and seating stabilization (lap belt) to hold the \”driver\” safely in his/her seat thus removing the chance of crush injuries as far as possible.

    This nonsense has been going on for some years and it would seem that the inaction of the likes of DoL and many other organisations show they could be accused of being complicit in further deaths as a result of lack of diligence and application in resolving the matter.

    So there may be little inconvenience involved by the quad bike user having to use the lap belt with very severe penalties if the belt is not used. The ROPS would not be an impediment and maybe a bicycle style helmet would be effective and not too much of an issue for users.

    There is no excuse for this not to be resolved in the very short term. Ban the sale of Quad bikes until the required safety matters are addressed and satisfactorily resloved, I am sure that would get things moving.

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