The fact that quad bike use is dangerous needs a fresh communication strategy

Dr Tony Lower of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety has released new information about deaths and injuries associated with quad bike use in Australia for 2011. His report lists media reports that

“There were at least 23 quad bike related fatalities and 56 major injuries, many of which are likely to be life‐changing…”

He also continues to keep pressure on the quad bike manufacturers:

“It is an absolute insult to quad bike users and particularly to those families that have lost loved ones in rollovers that the manufacturers and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) simply continue to defend the indefensible. There is an urgent need to address this issue through better design of the quad bikes themselves and also ensuring crush protection devices are fitted”

But the severity of the risk and potential consequences of using quad bikes is well established.  This article is going to look at a couple of other issues raised by Dr Lower’s media release (not yet available online) and the Media Monitors report.

Hierarchy of Control

Dr Lower provides a hierarchy of controls pertaining to quad bikes that, outside of the safety profession, may be a little limiting.

The hierarchy of control is a sound risk control strategy but requires explanation and context.  For instance, it may be possible to eliminate the hazard by not using quad bikes but not without affecting working time and convenience. Replacing quad bikes with alternative vehicles may be possible but some of these options are considerably more expensive.  Each control measure, in the image above, is an option but there needs to be an agricultural context to the application of the hierarchy so that farmers can relate the application of the hierarchy to their own geographical, financial and  operational circumstances.

Some of this may be taken up by OHS regulators through Codes of Practice and guidelines and, it can be argued should be, by safety professionals themselves.

Another risk with this hierarchy of controls image, as with many similar illustrations, is the progress through the hierarchy is linear when at each stage a risk assessment, or cost-benefit discussion, should be undertaken to investigate all available options to address the risk and, perhaps most importantly, how those control options can fit the needs of individual farms.

Media Pressure

There are many OHS issues vying for the attention of Government and OHS regulators at the moment in Australia.  Dr Lower is becoming increasingly adept at keeping the issue of quad bike safety and risks in the media and in safety discussions.  He is scheduled to present a paper at the upcoming Safety In Action conference entitled “Quad Bikes – When Will Manufacturers Rollover on Crush Protection Devices?” The paper will, according to the conference brochure, detail:

“…the tactics adopted by the industry despite mounting evidence supporting the efficacy of crush protection devices.”

The current battle over safety and quad bikes is reminiscent of similar disputes over cigarette smoking and asbestos and is crying out for someone from a media research or advertising background to produce a comparative study showing the  regulatory indifference or inaction, the tactics of equipment manufacturers, the funding models of research and the independence of those results, the criteria applied to reporting of quad bike safety issues by various media and the editorial decisions.

Regardless of the prominence given to the issue by the rural press, the debate has not entered the mainstream media.  Dr Lower’s Media Monitors report shows that the deaths and injuries are being reported, as they should, but the dispute between manufacturers and safety academics is not. It may be possible that data about the various media sources of the incident reports was not chosen for inclusion in the report issued by Dr Lower but he may get some mainstream media attention if he asked questions about the selection criteria of editors.

Lower makes the point in his media statement that

“Just to try and put this into perspective, most people appreciate that mining is a dangerous industry. In 2011 there were only 4 deaths in the whole Australian mining sector, so the 23 from quad bikes illustrates just how significant this issue is.”

Why do deaths in mines receive more attention than deaths on farms?  Posing this question to editors of a range of newspapers and media could form the basis of a fascinating analysis that could generate interest in those same mainstream editors by firstly, notifying them of the research early in the process, and secondly, generate some self-analysis of values and perceptions of readership.

Dr Tony Lower of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety continues to provide important evidence of the risks of quad bike use.  This evidence is putting pressure on Governments for action and is gaining increasing attention from OHS regulators, if not from equipment manufacturers.  This evidence has been reported and discussed comprehensively in the SafetyAtWorkBlog but a new strategy should be considered by Dr Lower and his colleagues, one that acknowledges the veracity and solidity of the evidence, and instead focusses on communicating that fact as widely as possible.

(Don’t forget that 28 April is the World Day for Safety and Health at Work – a great opportunity to gain the media’s OHS attention.)

Kevin Jones

1 thought on “The fact that quad bike use is dangerous needs a fresh communication strategy”

  1. I swear I read one time that the majority of deaths that happen at farms are regarding the use of quad bikes. Being a motorbike driver myself , quad bikes are so much more different to handle. I think that quad bike drivers need to learn and understand the differences between quad bikes and the use of normal motor bikes. When I drove the quad bike, I nearly tilted as I didn’t shift my weight properly. This would even be harder on a farm where hills would be present. Manufactures should start providing proper safety guidelines for the use of quad bikes.

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