People enter the quad bike ROPS debate

A week on from Australia’s The Weekly Times using its front page to open a debate about roll over protection structures (ROPS), the debate has continued in the letters and op-ed pages of The Weekly Times.

Dr Yossi Berger of the Australian Workers Union asks the valid question in his opinion piece – should all the responsibility for quad bike incidents be placed on riders or can manufacturers do better?  If injuries and deaths on quad bikes continue to occur after rider-focused control measures have been advocated and encouraged for many years, isn’t it time to look at more than PPE and administrative controls?  As Albert Einstein is alleged to have said:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Rhys Griffiths of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries says in his piece that the quad bike manufacturers are frustrated that low-cost, in safety-speak, administrative controls are not being applied by riders or endorsed by safety regulators.  The control measures recommended are likely to have positive safety impacts but these could be improved further by the integration of a ROPS.  However Griffiths says that :

“Roll Over Protection Systems are not the answer”.

I agree but safety is rarely about “the” answer.  Better outcomes are mostly achieved by a combination of controls that can accommodate the varying work characteristics.One of the challenges with any product  is that design changes that improve safety imply that the previous model was unsafe.  In terms of quad bikes, would a safer design mean that older models were unsafe and how would all those victims of the unsafe older models react to this implication?

I think there are considerable parallels with the work of Ralph Nader in his book “Unsafe at any Speed“.  There was a huge reluctance by manufacturers to acknowledge that the design of their products were resulting in unnecessarily severe injuries.  As Wikipedia describes, the book’s

“…main theme throughout is the way in which the automobile industry evaded even well-founded and technically-informed criticism.”

It seems the quad bike industry is in this situation currently.

The letters page of The Weekly Times includes the following points:

Steve Prentice says that riders often overload their quad bikes.

Jason Cowie says that “ROPS increase the centre of gravity…”

Several state that ROPS require harnesses to work effectively.

Mark Johnstone advocates government registration, licensing and training.

Simon Richardson says that if you follow all the safety recommendations and still get hurt “you are an idiot”.

Walter Sartori is a happy owner of a quad bike with a ROPS fitted and believes they should be mandatory.

Stuart Strickland has the longest letter and says “the way forward must be education and, failing that, licensing.”  He attacks the Australian Workers Union and the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety (ACAHS) for “a lack of engineering knowledge”.

Coincidentally, according to a motoring website article, until 30 June 2010, the general manager of Honda Australia Motorcycles & Power Equipment Australia was also named Stuart Strickland.  Honda’s Strickland was also

“…a board member of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries where he represented the motorcycle industry for 23 years and claimed the title of longest serving board member in the history of the FCAI.”

If this is the same person, it would have been appropriate for the letter to include an acknowledgement of the writer’s professional background.

As mentioned elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog, the ACAHS report requires careful reading to understand the safety and risk control principles being applied.  The report acknowledges the existence of conflicting research evidence of quad bike risk and advocates ROPS be seriously considered as an option not just “the answer”.

Kevin Jones

2 thoughts on “People enter the quad bike ROPS debate”

  1. I see that the latest Safety Express (29 March 2011 edition) has a lead article on farm deaths. Quads figure in latest reports, naturally. But most importantly I see WorkSafe has said farmers should \”…consider…crush protection…\” for quads. For some reason the associated linked press release doesn\’t mention it. Oh well, one step at a time.

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