Just before Christmas in 2009, Dr Yossi Berger speculated for an information network about the safety of quad bikes. He called it QuadWatch. Over two years later, on 13 July 2012, Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten announced his own QuadWatch.
In the 2009 Croaky Blog, Dr Berger suggested
“a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards. All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.”
Shorten described the new QuadWatch as
“… a community based network bringing together farmers, community groups, emergency services and local government.
Shorten’s QuadWatch is broadly consultative but is a little different in its communication strategy. Establishing websites in support of a political strategy have not had the greatest success in the last few years under the Federal Labor Government and QuadWatch is not the end point in the safety debate.
It is worth deconstructing the Minister’s media release a little.
“The QuadWatch webpage will provide information and links on how to reduce quad bike incidents, quad bike safety research, work health and safety information and contact details for state and territory regulatory bodies all on the one site.” [link added]
The government has been unsuccessful on the price-monitoring website initiative, Grocery Choice, killed by the supermarket duopoly in Australia. Any website designed to be informative and collaborative must be supported by a detailed internet strategy in order to demonstrate effective communications.
“If you build it, they will come” worked in a movie from an anonymous voice in a cornfield that requires no accountability. A government website is very different.
The QuadWatch website includes hyperlinks to various relevant information sources including the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), an organisation that has been hostile to quad bike safety initiatives to which it did not agree. Minister Shorten’s media release hardly mentions quad bike manufacturers but does acknowledge that “industry” (?) attended his roundtable meeting. It is understood the FCAI were absent.
Shorten seems to place “industry” in a more reactive role in the consultative process. The media release finishes with:
“When the issues paper is released submissions will be called from industry, academics, regulatory authorities, community groups and other interested parties.”
This implies that as quad bike manufacturers have withdrawn from prior consultation on safety that the best that can be expected is a submission (perhaps in more ways than one). However the participation of these manufacturers in Shorten’s consultative program is absolutely crucial as it is difficult to see any substantial safety redesign of quad bikes without the cooperation of those who make the machines.
It is rumoured that farming associations are keen to advise members officially that crush protection devices (CPD) should be either provided by vehicle manufacturers (highly unlikely) or made available at point of sale. This latter option is more likely, however the anti-CPD campaign by Honda recently aimed at its dealers has generated a lot of confusion and ill-feeling.
This campaign has not been forgotten by safety advocates and only this week, according to The Weekly Times, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission slapped Yamaha for brushing out the presence of CPDs in a photograph of Yamaha quad bikes that had been used in a global trek. The CPD in question was the Quadbar, a device one of the riders on the trek strongly recommended after a rollover on the journey.
“In addition to QuadWatch, Safe Work Australia will release an issues paper before the end of August seeking submissions on potential improvements to quad bike safety including crush protection devices.”
At first look an issues paper seems a reasonable step but only if one ignores the consultation on quad bike safety that has occurred over the last couple of years, particularly the trans-Tasman working party established by the then Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA).
The proposed paper effectively rests back control of the quad bike safety issue and places it clearly under the auspices of Safe Work Australia and, importantly, formally within the draft codes of practice process of the Work Health and Safety harmonisation strategy. It could be said that QuadWatch itself is a strategy to establish control of all issues related to quad bike safety.
This may sound sinister but it could equally be the “circuit breaker” that SafetyAtWorkBlog called for in April 2011:
“This dispute needs a circuit breaker –an independent authority to undertake a thorough literature review and to make a decision, a decision that does not simply recommend the need for further research. The decision must be based on the best information that is currently available. Yes, this may result in a short-term position on quad bike safety but at least there will be a position. Further research may reverse this recommendation, as research can do, but at least there is a reference point that will ease the confusion of quad bike dealers and users.”
The media release also stated there will be:
“A one day forum between all levels of government, farming organisations, unions, industry and community groups …. to discuss submissions on quad bike safety improvement coming out of the issues paper.”
This forum will only work if all the parties involved in the quad bike safety issue attend and participate. At the moment, participation from quad bike manufacturers seems unlikely.
The forum, issues paper and consultation is admirable but Minister Shorten does not identify an end point to the process. After all this work, how different will be the level of safety of, and the number of fatalities from, quad bikes in the workplace?
One last thought on the consultative process on this issue is that progress on quad bike safety has occurred from outside the tripartite consultative structure much beloved by the Australian Trade Union movement. For decades the trade unions have held to the participation of only government, employer associations and themselves in consultation on workplace safety matters.
Quad bike safety has been strongly advocated by the unions, principally, through Dr Yossi Berger. Government has been involved through various processes and has issued safety guidances but employer groups and associations have been almost totally absent. Farming associations have been bamboozled by information from various sources showing wildly different safety positions and this confusion has impeded any active participation in the quad bike safety debate, although there are indications those associations have come late to the party.
The evidence for change came largely through independent and academic researchers who presented robust research that often contradicted industry-based research provided by the vehicle manufacturers. The academic researchers asked why people continue to be seriously injured and killed if the equipment they were using was “safe”.
Minister Shorten, himself from a trade union background, has acknowledged that, on this workplace issue, resolution will require consultation beyond the tripartite. This is an important change in OHS consultation and one that just might have come at the right time for much harder OHS matters such as fatigue, psychosocial hazards and bullying.