Any new OHS guidelines from regulators important to read and consider when implementing safety interventions. New Zealand’s Department of Labour (DoL) has released new guidelines for the use of quad bikes in workplaces, predominantly, farms.
Regular readers will be aware that there are engineering controls for rollovers of quad bikes where “active riding” is an administrative control of rollovers. The engineering control is primarily a rollover protective structure (ROPS). The difference between the two control measures is significant as the engineering controls are considered to be a higher order, or more effective, control in the hierarchy of controls advocated by OHS regulators and professionals around the world.
The NZ DoL guidelines make reference to ROPS but only as a text box because the evidence on ROPS remains contentious.
The acknowledgement of the controversy is itself significant as it shows that evidence from manufacturers is not as incontrovertible as it once was. Advocates of alternative controls, such as ROPS, can take heart from the text box in this guide, reproduced below:
“A NOTE ABOUT ROLL OVER PROTECTION DEVICES (ROPS)
Various ROPs have been designed and fitted to quad bikes over the past two decades with the aim of protecting the rider from being crushed by the weight of the quad bike.
Quad bike manufacturers say that ROPs increase the chances of injury if a quad bike rolls, and commissioned a computer simulation study to illustrate this effect.
However, the validity of the study’s findings have been challenged by others citing contradictory evidence, and the debate continues.
The Department cannot promote or require the fitting of ROPs to manage the hazard of quad bike roll-over until the protective properties of such devices have been firmly established.
Fitting ROPs to a quad bike therefore remains a matter of personal choice for the farmer. A recent survey indicates that some form of ROP is fitted to quad bikes on approximately 15% of NZ farms.”
What is curious about the text is that a regulator has said that, in this case, safety is a “personal choice for the farmer”. Such a statement in print is almost unheard of, from a regulator. This shows the passion and importance of the quad bike ROPS debate. But would such a statement be accepted in other ares of workplace safety regulation?
The text also illustrates that 15% of New Zealand farmers have made a personal choice and installed ROPS on their quad bikes. The figure needs analysis but, on face value, it is significant as the installation of ROPS is usually contrary to manufacturers’ guidelines. In fact the guidelines say on page 12:
“Note that modifications not approved by the quad bike manufacturer may void a warranty and/or insurance policy. Check with the manufacturer/supplier or insurance underwriter.”
What is more important to a farmer, voiding a warranty or dying slowly and alone pinned under a quad bike in a paddock? If the manufacturers will not improve the safe design of their vehicles, it is reasonable for owners to install their own safety features, as 15% of NZ farmers already have.
The whole of the NZ quad bike guideline is an important read as there has been considerable thought put into the content and presentation. The risk comparison table on page 14 is very useful, particularly in comparing the risks of a “two-wheeled farm bike” (odd title for a motorbike), the “quad bike” and the “side-by-side utility vehicle”. It’s a shame that the side-by-side vehicles are often twice the price of a quad bike. The checklists at the back of the publication are similarly useful.
The DoL quad bike guidelines are an improvement on what has previously existed but it remains an educational tool sitting in the “administrative control” sector of the hierarchy of controls. Quad bike safety needs to climb that hierarchy to, at least, the engineering controls of ROPS or redesign.