New research on quad bike safety remains academic in a climate of uncertain OHS reform

Dr Tony Lower of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety (AgHealth) has released a farm safety research report of curiosity more than influence.  The report, Farm Related Injuries Reported in the Australian Print Media 2011, makes use of the media monitoring services that the centre has been using for over five years.  The accompanying media release, not yet available online, summarises some basic findings:

“According to the report released by the Centre today, the 2011 information illustrates a 60% drop in the number of on‐farm injury deaths when compared to the early 1990’s, where the average number of deaths was 146 per year. “This reduction over the past 20 years is fantastic news, however by our estimates, many more deaths can be prevented by adopting solutions which we know from the evidence work” said Dr Lower.

The study results show that quad bikes (18) were the leading cause and made up 31% of all deaths.

Meanwhile tractors (10) were responsible for 17% of incidents. Tragically, seven of the fatal cases (11%) involved children aged 15yrs and under, with quad bikes (3) and drowning (2) being most frequently involved.”

An understandable limitation of the report is the fact that the social influence of print media is much less than in previous decades and that the report misses multimedia and the new medias.  This is one of those research reports than can genuinely suggest additional research to increase the relevance of the findings.  AgHealth could benefit greatly by seeking additional research support in this area from some of the media research schools of Australian universities.

An interesting finding is that

“This is the first time that tractors have not been the leading cause of death and really reflects ongoing design improvements centered on rollover protection. Significantly, while the number of deaths with every other cause is going down, quad bikes are going off the scale in the opposite direction. The 18 cases only represent on‐farm incidents and we know there were a further 5 off‐farm quad bike deaths,taking the national total to 23 deaths.”

Dr Lower’s comments are timely as the Queensland Government has commenced a public discussion period for a revised Code of Practice for Rural Plant, which includes quad bikes and ATVs.  The draft Code curiously is weak on the application of the hierarchy of controls given that the new national Work Health and Safety legislation requires risk and hazards to be assessed and controlled in line with the hierarchy.  It does discuss the need to assess the work environment to identify risks and on a farm, in relation to quad bikes, this would be everywhere.  Although the major changes to the existing Code involve the change from ATV to quad bike and the corresponding safety debate, more attention to how the draft code applies to quad bike operation is required and this is likely to come through the public comments.

There is no specific mention in the Code of crush protection devices (CPDs), a central point of dispute between safety advocates, equipment manufacturers and the quad bike industry.  The government’s recommended comments paper does however.  It requests comments on

“CPD’s: Should the code include information on crush protection devices (CPD’s)?”

The easy answer to this question is a resounding Yes.  Information on a range of risk control options should be included in OHS codes of practice.  To not do so would restrict the state of knowledge on safety innovations.  However a more important and politically charged question could be “Should the code recommend crush protection devices?”

The production of a revised Code of Practice for Rural Plant in Queensland remains a long way off and is not guaranteed.  OHS laws and regulation in Australia are in a contentious state of flux and uncertainty.  Many State OHS regulators have suspended their guidance production programs due to the OHS harmonisation process.  Now that the harmonisation process has slowed to a crawl, the development of OHS guidance on a national basis is very uncertain.

It is certain that public submissions of the rural plant code will illustrate the ideological differences of various organisation concerning workplace safety but it is hard to see a pathway to progress while OHS reform in Australia is so shaky.

Kevin Jones

3 thoughts on “New research on quad bike safety remains academic in a climate of uncertain OHS reform”

  1. Yeah! its sad and to the issue i will say that if we wear necessary protection while riding, then i think the accident will be reduced.Quad bikes are more powerful and its bit difficult to tackle in mountains..

  2. What a sad thing it is to know that in the order of 20,000 quad bike-related fatalities and hundreds of thousands (yes!) injuries around the world over the last two decades will not make as much of a difference to regulators’ thinking about crush protection devices (CPDs -readily available in Australia) as the fatality of one very high profile person.

    No one wants such a fatality, no one, but it’s an unfortunate truth that the quickest improvements in OHS come from such events, or factory explosions. One such quad bike-related fatality and within a month CPDs will be strongly and openly recommended by regulators, and politicians will join the finger wagging.

  3. Had a look through the draft code stuff on ATVs and it’s very disappointing (to say the least). But it’s not just disappointing because it doesn’t say what a lot of us would hope it would have said about CPDs; the worst of it is that it fails to do what I think every code of practice should do, and that is aim to express state of knowledge on a hazard or risk.

    Zero reference to the thinking about CPDs means the code, at least on that topic, has completely missed the mark. Roger, the CPD thing has a political/power-play element to it, but OHS/WHS regulators have to step up to the plate in their role as collators of state of knowledge.

    If they don’t do that, no-one else will and OHS degenerates into a bunch of beliefs, subjective opinions and “he said, she said”.

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