The Australian Government looks to apply “above-the-line” safety to quad bikes

At the end of August 2012, Australia’s Minster for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, released a discussion paper on quad bike safety. The intention of the discussion paper is a:

“…calls for submissions on potential improvements to quad bike safety to reduce the alarming rate of quad bike fatalities and injuries….

The comments received will be discussed at a one day forum between all levels of government, farming organisations, unions, industry and community groups to be held in October 2012.”

The paper is fairly thin on details and is certainly not like other discussion papers which present a current state of knowledge or present a set of circumstances that comments are wanted on.  But most of the quad bike safety research is readily available on the internet so, perhaps Minister Shorten is acknowledging this reality and the intelligence of those interested in this issue. The paper poses the following questions:

  1. “What design solutions and/or engineering controls could improve quad bike stability and safety?
  2. What engineering controls could improve operator protection in the event of a roll over?
  3. What engineering options could minimise the capacity of children to start and/or operate quad bikes?
  4. What engineering controls could minimise the capacity of a quad bike to carry passengers?”

The significance of these questions are that they clearly focus on higher order controls of the hierarchy of control, in other industries this approach is described as “above the line” safety.  The questions deal with engineering and design controls, not personal protective equipment or administrative controls.  This effectively excludes, from this inquiry, the quad bike manufacturers’ recommendations (others would describe them as excuses) of safety riding techniques (administrative controls) and helmets (PPE).  This in no way excludes these controls from the current and future use of quad bikes in workplaces or elsewhere, as these controls can be effective, but this inquiry is looking for more, it is looking for above-the-line initiatives and innovations.

There is always the risk when discussing quad bike safety that recreational  quad bike riders and associations see workplace safety initiatives as a potential impediment to their enjoyment of their sport or recreation.  The risk of recreational submissions is possible in the Shorten inquiry but the submission cover sheet clearly indicates the focus of the inquiry on workplace issues.  Still, expect recreational alarm or concern.

Quad bike safety may be seen by the general safety professional as a rural issue.  Some of the most useful debates on this issue occur outside the metropolitan centres of Australia and are hardly every covered in the daily media.  An example of the significance of this issue in rural Australia can be seen by the increasingly public concern expressed by the Country Women’s Association.  The CWA continues to be a focus to be reckoned with.

But the safety issues are not rural even though the use of quad bikes is.  The current debate addresses issues such as:

  • safety in design;
  • product liability;
  • OHS compliance;
  • importation of plant;
  • personal responsibility;
  • the relevance and role of Australian Standards;
  • OHS regulatory enforcement;
  • risk assessments, and
  • the new Work Health and Safety laws.

But the focus must remain on the fact that these machines have been involved in farm fatalities.  Shorten says in his paper:

“Last year 23 people died as a result of a quad bike incident. Four of these were children aged 16 years or younger. Tragically already this year 10 people have lost their lives.”

The manufacturers’ claim that the deaths and injuries result from driver misuse or error has worn too thin to be credible.  It has gone the way of “pilot error” in aviation and “human error” in incident investigation.  Rider training can only go so far and helmets only protect part of the body.  The common element in all the deaths is the vehicle being used and it is on that common factor that our attention must now analyse.

Kevin Jones

4 thoughts on “The Australian Government looks to apply “above-the-line” safety to quad bikes”

  1. How about making parents responsible for keeping children away from quad bikes, such as not buying them in the first place or, if they do cause injury or death, make them responsible as if they were themselves driving them? Better still, do what should have been done with jet-skis and leaf blowers – ban them.

  2. Quad bikes are amazing machines as well as dangerous, so it is very much a needed topic to be written about due to the amount of accidents and incidents we read about in newspapers and within the media. One of the strangest beliefs is that just because a quad bike has head lights and indicators it is a road legal quad. Many of the Chinese manufacturers have started installing these items as standard now, even on the smallest 50cc children\’s quad bike.

  3. Liked the issues paper, for the fact it cuts-to-the-chase on the issues without crapping on and on. An innovation. OHS issues paper that doesn\’t crap on and on.

    Will be good to see what sort of responses it gets.

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