Quad bike manufacturers walk out of safety working group

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final stages of its report and a major motorcycle industry representative has not liked the findings and has apparently withdrawn from the working group.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?
As SafetyAtWorkBlog said in January 2011, new consumer product safety laws could have been applied to quad bikes.  The Australian Consumer Law introduced:
  • “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

10 thoughts on “Quad bike manufacturers walk out of safety working group”

  1. People need to grasp one simple fact. People die in accidents. I find it idiotic that because one or two people die every year on Quad bikes that we now have tons of stupid paper to wade through. Why won\’t we have the WHS laws applying to cars, all cars. Better yet, people die in cars all the time. I think we should ban cars. Geezez sheeple wake up. This is just more left wing crap imported from that beacon of stupidity, the United Kingdom. Who has the time and therefore wears the cost for all this drivel!

  2. The Nanny State gone completely mad. get ready for more businesses to close their doors or move off shore. I\’m surprised we don\’t have code of practice for taking a dump. Oops…..we probably do!
    More reams to stupid paper to wade through ann the bottom line. People will still do it the way they have always done. Simply madness.

  3. I think you\’ve missed my point, Yossi, which is that we need to be more careful AND put other safety measures in place because, as I said, \”Still, we are all human and make silly mistakes. We can also be surprised by hazards like wombat holes that put even the most careful rider at risk…\”

    Surely we have to combine both approaches.

  4. I can\’t resist this question


    Do you really believe that farmers, farm workers, Parks and gardens officers will always, (a) be more careful, (b) religiously practice \’dynamic riding\’ all the time, (c) use ‘common sense’, as you call it, and have good, continuous concentration on what they are doing most of time?

    That’s what they said 100 years ago in the UK when machine guards (of all things!) were suggested on moving parts, \’workers should be more careful and use common sense\’.

    I know something about OHS, Marian, yet you\’d be stunned to see the silly risks I personally still take on occasions when using a bench grinder or cleaning guttering at 5 meters off the ground on an extension ladder, tending to focus sharply on the task rather than safety wisdom. Am I alone in this OHS delinquent behaviour?

    Sure personal responsibility is important. But the rider did not manufacture the prone to rollover quad.

  5. I think both you, Yossi, and the industry are right in some ways.

    We DO need to be more careful riding quads and we do need to practise dynamic riding techniques. If you\’re going to ride a quad (or drive a car) like a nut, don\’t be surprised if you get hurt – with or without a CPD. And plenty of people take them for granted.

    WIth this in mind, our farm\’s quad bike induction includes watching the industry video together, hands-on operation instruction for each bike, a practical test, a discussion spelling out that helmet use is non-negotiable, a first-hand look at some of the hazards and joint round up, followed by the signing of an induction check list.

    Most of it is all \”common sense\” and perhaps somewhat insulting to experienced farm hands but we do it because we want to meet our OHS obligations and, more importantly, get the message through that we take safety on farm extremely seriously.

    Still, we are all human and make silly mistakes. We can also be surprised by hazards like wombat holes that put even the most careful rider at risk (not a laughing matter – my husband drove into one on the tractor this morning and was very lucky not to be hurt). For these two reasons, anything that adds to our safety without compromising either the stability or useability of the bike has to be a good idea.

    I can see how it\’s possible to get pinned by the Quadbar but seeing as the surface area of that pinch point is so much smaller than the surface area of the quad, it\’s hard to see how it wouldn\’t increase our chances of survival during a rollover.

    So, for me, the bottom line is that we need to be more careful on quads and add any other protection that might save a life without being so cumbersome it gets bypassed or sabotaged.

    PS: Definitely not at my most photogenic at 5am but will put up a blog post on http://milkmaidmarian.wordpress.com in the next couple of days!

  6. Maybe you should send in a photo of yourself on the quad, Marian, with the Crush Protection Device (CPD) fitted; a 5 am shot might be interesting, the modern milk maid!

    You\’re right Col. Them\’s the moments that don\’t announce themselves, they are just suddenly there for the taking, but even quicker than mushrooms after a rain they are gone.

    The Crush Protection Device that\’s available in Australia will not save every falling rider during a rollover. But since some 50% of all fatalities involve rollovers there\’s a good chance that some riders will be saved.

    The industry, which is now reaching the frenzied stage of opposition, (as did the asbestos industry once, and the lead industry…. etc.) likes to quote mostly research they have commissioned. Mostly research based on cartoons of incidents. This is referred to as ‘computer modelling’ based on a range of assumptions.

    I would\’ve have thought that by now people will have learnt that such modelling in the wrong hands can be very misleading – even in more experienced hands they need to be handled very carefully. This has been discovered by the world of finance and by climate change scientists. Perhaps BP in their deep ocean drilling for oil will also be more cautious with such modelling in the future.

    Such computer modelling is best used as a legitimate and important a research tool to generate and test various hypotheses. The very reason for having to do such modelling is that some facts are difficult to obtain in the real world, that\’s why you need computer cartoons and animations. That’s what a model is, a likeness, but not the real thing.

    In the hands of an experienced researcher they can be used to generate lots of ideas for testing, for interacting with the real world and getting closer and closer to the facts.

    The industry\’s use of the results of such simulations is very questionable. Not once has the industry carefully demonstrated – even with their own research – that CPDs increase the risk of injuries as they keep saying. The best I can make out is that the cartoons demonstrate that in fact CPDs will reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities, but not to a great enough degree for their liking.

    That is, in blunt terms, if an air bag in a car is likely to save one person but kill another one as well, then there’s no point in using it as a safety device; there’s no net gain. But what if it\’s likely to kill one and save two? Or kill one and save 4, or kill one and save 12?

    What\’s an acceptable ratio? As I understand it the industry\’s researcher wants more cartoon animations saved before he advices the industry that \’enough cartoons are likely to be saved\’.

    Yes, I\’ve tried to communicate with him to get to the bottom of this in a fair manner. But unlike some of the very best researchers in the world who have offered me (in my capacity as OHS national co-coordinator for a union) plenty of invaluable advice over the years, he will not respond, unless perhaps the industry tells him to.

    Pity. Since I wrote to him with my questions many riders have died in Australia and the US. In the meantime the industry says that to counter these machines’ proneness to rollover riders should learn to \’dance for their lives\’ in the saddle. That\’s not how they put it of course. They call it ‘dynamic riding’, and Worksafe Victoria media releases say that riders should be more careful!

  7. The HWSA needs to be congratulated for doing what really matters – driving safety using some bleedingly obvious logic. Of course, they have the lessons of history to draw on.

    There was lots of hand-wringing over getting farmers to fit ROPS to tractors. In fact, not even ROPS, actually \”crush protection devices\”. Yep, in Victoria that was backed up with a subsidy program. But even though it was known by all stakeholders that farmers were unlikely to fit or use seat belts often, the number of deaths from tractor roll-overs were categorically reduced once CPDs became common on older tractors.

    A maker of a crush protection device for a quad that does that jeopardising the structural integrity of the quad would have to be stark raving mad, and a person who doesn\’t satisfy themselves the maker has good evidence the CPD will do what it promises to is equally mad.

    I can only hope the HWSA sticks to its guns. In the life of an OHS regulator \”decisive moments\” come along far less than you\’d imagine (I know \’cause I\’ve been there). This CPD stuff for quads is categorically one of those moments.


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