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.