“We at the US CPSC are monitoring your activities closely with the hope that what you learn can help us back here in the United States.”
That places considerable attention on the safety initiatives and negotiations in Australia but also may indicate that the United States is struggling to achieve change in this area.
On October 17 2012, the Weekly Times devoted its front page, a double page spread and its editorial to the safety of quad bikes, or All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs). The editorial called on the Government to
“…mandate all ATVs are fitted with roll-over protection ..[and to] provide a rebate to allow retro-fitting of roll-over protection to existing ATVs.”
ABC News provided an excellent summary of the issues associated with quad bike safety in its news report on 17 October 2011 and showed some scary images of young children riding quad bikes.
“The Minister said he has asked Safe Work Australia to report on the key findings of the quad bike issues paper and today’s forum, and that he would direct Comcare*, the Commonwealth workplace safety regulator, to immediately implement the following:
- Comcare will work with scheme employers to review their use of quad bikes and consider possible substitution with less hazardous equipment.
- Comcare will initiate a program to retro-fit crush protection devices for bikes used by federal employers, along with rider training.
- Comcare will also work with other regulators to sponsor the development of a technical standard to underpin the design, manufacture, testing and installation of crush protection devices for quad bikes during manufacture or for after-market applications.”
Quad bike manufacturers, who attended the Minister’s meeting, are still resisting the use of crush protection devices (CPDs) but seem to have no response to the important point made by the Minister:
“Years of warnings, extra training and recommendations for helmet use had failed to reduce the death and injury rate.”
Manufacturers may argue that this is due to riders not following manufacturers’ recommendations but this has not been helped by the promotion of a dogmatic resistance to change by the manufacturers and their industry representatives. Many other vehicles and devices have undergone change to address real and perceived safety risks in order to sell safer products and address customer concerns. Quad bike manufacturers have dug in on the issue and refuse to compromise. That is their right, in one sense, but it makes it difficult to then complain if the government, who has a responsibility on public safety, introduces safety regulations to minimise harm and fatalities. A comparison with the way automotive manufacturers have upgraded safety features is enlightening and this is decades since Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe at any Speed“.
The manufacturers’ response is difficult to maintain when farming associations, the representatives of the major quad bike customers, are beginning to accept the need for improved safety, even though they may complain about potential cost. The president of the Victorian Farmers’ Federation (which also had a representative at the forum), Peter Tuohey, said on 18 October 2012.:
“The reality is we need decent research to determine once and for all the value of crush protection and other roll-over protection structures on Quad bikes, plus a decent national strategy on the issue…I understand the NSW Government has initiated such research.”
The National Farmers’ Federation’s workplace relations committee chairman Charlie Armstrong is reported as saying, on the matter of CPDs:
“We’re trying to persuade the manufacturers to either supply them at the point of sale or fit them beforehand. But if that’s not going to happen then we will go to government to mandate some form of requirement for manufacturers to fit them, or some form of incentive scheme for farmers to fit them, particularly on bikes that are already in use…”
The unions and safety researchers would argue that interim safety measures can be introduced pending additional research and would likely use the issues of asbestos and mesothelioma as an example. Once a control measure exists, every death that could have been prevented by that device will raise serious questions to the manufacturers and governments from grieving relatives.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been told that the forum had a friendly tone for most of the time but towards the end, when there was open discussion, the atmosphere became tense with some clear and robust language used. According to a running sheet, the questions, reflective of the Government’s issues paper, posed in the open discussion were
- “What design solutions and/or engineering controls could improve quad bike stability and safety?
- What engineering controls could improve operator protection in the event of a roll over?
- What engineering options could minimise the capacity of children to start and/or operate quad bikes?
- What engineering controls could minimise the capacity of a quad bike to carry passengers?”
Apparently an analysis of the submission received on the issues paper was presented and, according to one participant, the major points were that:
- “Support for greater stability and roll over protection is emphatic
- Industry Representatives and Manufacturers are emphatically against any engineering improvements.
- Agricultural Organisations, regulators and insurers and researchers are emphatically for engineering improvements”.
The challenge for the future, or “battle lines”, are clear.
The same running sheet listed the following speakers:
- The Hon Bill Shorten MP – Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
- Associate Professor Tony Lower Director – Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety
- Mr Paul Vitrano – Executive Vice President Speciality Vehicle Institute of America
- Mr Cameron Cuthill – Motorcycle Manager — Consulting Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries
- Dr Yossi Berger – National Occupational Health and Safety Director – Australian Workers’ Union
- Mr Charles Armstrong – Chair of the Workplace Relations Committee – National Farmers’ Federation
The Minister stressed that the forum was not the end of the safety deliberations but it is difficult to see any sustainable progress without the manufacturers compromising, even just a little. The forum indicates that the Australian Government is prepared to apply “soft” regulation in this safety area and the risk for manufacturers is that without compromise, “hard” regulations will come. That option is likely to raise accusations of “nanny state”, as all new business and safety-related regulations do but manufacturers have the chance to avoid these soft and hard regulations through compromise.
The longer quad bike manufacturers take to address the real and perceived shortcomings of their products, the more families and relatives will point to them with accusations of “killing machines”. Allowing that to happen seems a shortsighted marketing strategy and they need to remember that the world is watching.