Quad bike manufacturers withdraw from the safety campaign

The Weekly Times newspaper can feel justifiably chuffed that it has played a significant role in changing some of the attitudes on the safe operation of quad bikes.

It’s front page article on 23 November 2011 reports on a considerable backdown by quad bike manufacturers in Australia on the issue of rollover protection structures (ROPS) or crush protection devices (CPDs). (The cartoon is very funny also) Motorcycle manufacturers have been supporting a campaign and website through the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) but even recent media releases (FCAI MOVES TO DE-BUNK ATV ROLL-OVER PROTECTION MYTHS )  have been removed from the FCAI website  and the FCAI spokesperson has been “directed by ATV makers not to discuss the issue” according to the Weekly Times.  FCAI’s 2010 position paper on quad bike safety continues to be accessible.

New CEO

SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that there is industry speculation that the sudden change in policy direction is due to the September 2011 appointment of a new CEO, Ian Chalmers.  Significantly Chalmers has been recruited from outside the vehicle manufacturing sector, and in the FCAI media release about his appointment, Chalmers is quoted as saying:

“I am particularly looking forward to continuing the chamber’s constructive relationship with government …. With many challenges facing the automotive sector in this country it is important we continue to work with our members and government, ensuring the sector remains viable and the manufacturing base robust.”

All CEOs need to make a statement early in their appointments to indicate their arrival.  Dropping the public opposition to ROPS and CPDs would have been a prudent move when considering the confusion the campaign was creating in the markets and with retailers, as well as the increasingly fractious relationship with government authorities, a sector familiar to Chalmers and one specifically referenced in the quote above.

The change in direction also may be an acknowledgement that the FCAI represents automotive manufacturers yet most of the (negative) press has come from its, smaller, motorcycle division.

Legal Presence

A curious inclusion in the Weekly Times article is the prominent Australian law firm, Slater & Gordon.  This company has not been mentioned in media reports previously even though the firm has been active behind the scenes in quad bike safety for several years, SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told.  Slater & Gordon is a high-profile Australian law firm specialising in class actions.  Having this firm involved in any contentious issue in Australia automatically lifts the risk level for all involved.

It would be a shame if it was only the potential threat of legal action by a media-savvy law firm that generated the capitulation by FCAI rather than a victory for good sense.  The overt presence of Slater & Gordon may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back but that camel has been weakened over the last few years by a combination of robust scientific investigation, reassessment of risk, public discussion about safety, media attention (almost exclusively by the Weekly Times), perseverance against powerful corporations and the questioning of established thinking. (How many other safety beliefs could fall to this combination?)

Quad bike Incident

Sadly there were also a continuing number of quad bike workplace deaths, each one reinvigorating debate about the science and morality of these vehicles.  Indeed this evening while finishing this blog, WorkSafe WA issued a media release (not yet available online) concerning a quad bike-related injury at Scott River in Western Australia last week.  The release states that

“WorkSafe is investigating a collision between a four-wheel-drive and a quad bike last week that left a 25-year-old man critically injured.

The collision took place on private property at Scott River East last Thursday afternoon. It is believed visibility in the area may have been reduced by smoke.

The quad bike rider was a 25-year-old man who was airlifted to Perth and remains in a critical but stable condition.”

Media Coverage

The debate is far from over and it is worthwhile to note that the reporting by, primarily, Fiona Myers in the Weekly Times has not been picked up by the major metropolitan newspapers, particularly those in the News Limited media of which the Weekly Times is part.

The reporting of workplace deaths becomes very regionalised where there is a brief mention in the metropolitan press, detailed attention in the local press and then silence for many years until a, possible, prosecution or the coronial inquest.  There was sufficient substance to Myers’ articles for a decent article in the weekend press, in particular, similar to Richard Guilliatt’s recent article on bullying that, it is believed, took the reporter many weeks to create.

Victoria, specifically, is a State governed by a coalition of the Liberal and National parties.  The National Party has a strong power base in the rural communities and Peter Ryan, the leader of the National Party, is also the Deputy Premier.  It is not unreasonable to expect the unnecessary deaths of National Party constituents in rural workplaces to receive similar attention to those of rural traffic fatalities.

Australia has a tradition of Collins Street and Pitt Street farmers who have the country property for weekends (and tax savings) and to which they can retire.  One wonders whether the quad bike safety issue would have received a different complexion if the financial newspapers and business pages of metropolitan newspapers reported on the battle between safety advocates, farmers, motorcycle dealerships and quad bike manufacturers.

It is hoped that the end of the combative campaign on quad bike safety by the FCAI will signal a consultative process on safety that will have as its principle aim, the preservation of the lives of those working on farms.

Kevin Jones

6 thoughts on “Quad bike manufacturers withdraw from the safety campaign”

    1. The article also mentions some involvement from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

      Also, at least one reader has advised that at least one Honda dealer is holding to a letter received from the manufacturer stating opposition to ROPS on quadbikes

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