Workplace safety is rarely simple or easy. It has become a standard recommendation in Australia recently for quad bike riders to wear helmets. Quad bike manufacturers recommend the wearing of helmets and some OHS regulators are making it mandatory but this should not be the end of the safety discussion. The Weekly Times newspaper on 21 September 2011 describes the current arguments occurring over the type of helmet to be worn.
It is common for workplaces to experience disputes or discussions over personal protective equipment (PPE). These discussions are necessary to ensure that the best, the most suitable, PPE is used to control a hazard. Sometimes safety eyewear can be heat-resistant sunglasses, sometimes this should be goggles. Sometime head protection comes from a hard hat, sometime from a bump cap. PPE should never generate new hazards when trying to control another.
The current discussion indicates has arisen over the wearing of motorcycle-style helmets while following a herd of dairy cows during an Australian summer. Dairy farmers say that the wearing of helmets in these conditions is absurd and farmers will choose to ride quad bikes un-helmeted instead.
Michael Birt, a WorkSafe Victoria spokesperson, is quoted as saying:
“…..lightweight helmets, meeting the Australian standard 1698, were already available, and were light, cool and suitable for use in conditions where ATVs were used at low speed.
“The helmet is your last line of defence as a rider and when someone comes off (the ATV), they make a difference,” he said. “You don’t have to wear the full road helmet – these others pass the standard and farmers should go to dealers and say they want them.”
Quad bike manufacturers and users need to educate their clients and colleagues about the variety of helmets available. It is silly to say that helmets must be worn without providing additional details about helmet type, suppliers, how to wear them……
It is useful to compare the quad bike helmet debate to that recently conducted about helmets for jockeys in horse racing. The horse racing industry has been integral to developing new helmet designs but also in changing the physical workplace risks. The quad bike industry seems less supportive of change.
But the Weekly Times article is, in one way, a distraction. As Birt says the “helmet is your last line of defence” and it has limited effect. The helmet protects the head but nothing else and it may be worth identifying the most frequent types of injuries incurred by quad bike riders to see if other hazard control options should be considered. Accident Compensation Commission statistics from New Zealand says:
“Quad bikes are responsible for almost a third of farm fatalities (40% with head injuries)…”
(The NZ perspective on helmets was discussed on the SafetyAtWorkBlog two years ago)
So helmets are relevant to 40% of quad bike fatalities. Therefore there are 60% of quad bike fatalities that are caused by injuries other than head trauma. How are these fatalities being prevented or reduced?
Investigation of the design of quad bikes could substantially reduce all injuries and fatalities related to quad bikes, including, potentially, removing the need for any helmets for riders. It could remove any additional costs to the farmers. It could remove the need to provide additional information and education to farmers.
The risk of allowing a reliance on the use of PPE for quad bike riders in workplaces is that attention is directed away from investigating changes that would be more sustainable, more comfortable and less disruptive to workers. If quad bikes had been designed to reduce or eliminate harm initially, there would be no need for helmets, no controversy, no debate and possibly no deaths.