In early 2010, Australia’s Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) established a trans-Tasman working party to look at the safety issues of quad bikes, often called all-terrain vehicles. The working group is in the final stages of its report and a major motorcycle industry representative has not liked the findings and has apparently withdrawn from the working group. A report on the increasing tensions was published in this week’s The Weekly Times. SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that the quad bike industry representative has walked out in protest.
Let’s look at what HWSA said about the working group in May 2010:
“HWSA Chair, John Watson, said every farming fatality leads to immeasurable suffering in close-knit rural communities and these figures are not acceptable.
“The working group is expected to deliver solutions to safety problems associated with use of quad bikes on farm properties and raise awareness of practical risk controls,…
“The group will look at issues that include design, safety equipment, training and instruction, aftermarket accessories, safe use and point of sale,….
“The joint program of work will be delivered through an Industry Solutions Program where industry and regulators work together to address high risk safety issues – an initiative that has successfully provided practical solutions to a number of issues across many industries.
“The working group is focused on producing tangible and sustainable safety outcomes across the farming and agricultural industry where quad bikes are commonly used….”
Of significance in that media release is that Chief Executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries
(FCAI) Andrew McKellar said
“It is our objective that all quad bike users are well informed of the manufacturer’s recommendations in relation to the safe use of these vehicles…”
The sticking point in the working group was, according to The Weekly Times, that
“”…the committee was expected to back the recommendation to “consider fitting an anti-crush device”, the strongest position yet for roll-over protection.”
The committee did recommend this and apparently the FCAI walked. Attempts have been made to contact the FCAI to confirm their action and their objections.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that, earlier in the working group process, the manufacturers’ representative withdrew their support after the issue of roll-over protection was confirmed as an option for investigation. At that time, the representative was encouraged to return to the group and did apologise for the action. Clearly the issue has continued as a source of concern.
The correspondence to quad bike dealers from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (AgHealth) is a curious anticipation of the new harmonised OHS laws due for introduction in Australia on 1 January 2012. The legal obligations for the suppliers and manufacturers of plant have not changed much in almost twenty years so why apply this strategy now? And why relate the issue to the new OHS laws?
- “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 seems that action on quad bike safety could easily have commenced on product safety laws and consumer protection. However AgHealth is pursuing action in anticipation of new OHS laws that say, according to Dr Tony Lower:
“Persons conducting a business or undertaking of supplying plant for use at work must ensure so far as reasonably practicable that the plant is safe and free from risks to health…”
WorkSafe Victoria provides a definition of plant
that includes tractors but does not seem to apply to quad bikes, and yet elsewhere WorkSafe
includes quad bikes as an example of “mobile plant”.
It seems a more constructive strategy from quad bike manufacturers would have been to contest the claims of AgHealth and investigate the legitimacy of AgHealth’s strategy, through, and beyond, the working group’s operation. The sudden withdrawal just before recommendations are finalised could be interpreted as acknowledging that the battle is unwinnable.
Certainly the strategy of the quad bike manufacturers seems to have been backfiring for some time as SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that the sales of some roll-over protection (ROPS) devices has increased since the controversy gained mainstream media attention
. Increased sales will only strengthen the influence of the ROPS suppliers to government and the farming community. The controversy has provided a level of brand awareness for quad bike ROPS that no small manufacturer could ever have afforded themselves.
It seems as if the actions of the quad bike manufacturers and their industry representatives on this issue support that all publicity is good publicity for someone, and in this case, that’s the ROPS suppliers.
reservoir, victoria, australia