New quadbike safety research in a time of political change

In the next edition of the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA), Dr Tony Lower, Director of Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety and Monash University researchers ( Angela J Clapperton and Emily L Herde) will be providing more evidence about the death and injury rate associated with the use of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and quadbikes. A unique feature of this study is that “it is the first Australian study quantifying injuries from three different data sources.”

This research is timely as only last week a Tasmanian court case was occurring over a quad bike incident on a dairy farm. According to a newspaper report on the case:

“Defence counsel Glynn Williams told magistrate Michael Brett that quad bikes were inherently unsafe and unstable…. [and]

“There is ongoing carnage on farms and while the government can legislate to make stronger and stronger dog laws there is no willingness to legislate for stronger quad bike laws”

According to a media statement on the MJA paper due for release on 16 September 2013, Lower says:

“As the data indicates not only are there increasing numbers of quad cases, they are also more serious than other similar injuries. Further, because of their threat to life, they will frequently require higher levels of medical treatment and longer recovery periods for the victims.”

“The impact of deaths and serious injuries from quad bikes is significant and I am sure everyone would like to see a decrease in these incidents.”

He is referring to the findings of research based on an internationally recognized standard that measures threat to life was also used to assess the severity of injury. This measurement indicated that “29% of admitted cases were “serious”.”

Also, there was a curious comparison of quadbike statistics with motorcycles and that

“A further analysis revealed that quad bike cases were statistically more likely to be a threat to life than other injured motorcycle riders.”

Although the study is titled “Quad bike-related injury in Victoria, Australia” international data is considered, particularly from Canada and the United States, which shows

“an increasing incidence of injuries associated with quad bikes”.

Also Lower and his colleagues have accessed solid data over a nine-year period in a single jurisdiction.

“..fatal and hospital-treated injury associated with quad bike use over the 9 years to the end of June 2011 by using coronial records and data on admissions and ED presentations in Victoria.”

If the study gains any mainstream media attention in Australia the headline is likely to focus on the statistics related to children riding quadbikes. Any data involving children raises the editorial antennae and there are legitimate concerns about children riding these machines as seen in the quote below.

“This study highlights the high proportion of children among those with quad bike-related injury. This is of major concern as several notable organisations recommend that children under 16 years of age should not be riding quad bikes. There is now evidence to indicate that children do not have the physical size, strength or cognitive capacity to operate these vehicles safely.”

But the paper discusses the importance of continuing to apply the hierarchy of control to quadbikes and their operation. Helmets are an effective control for some type of injuries and for head protectn but as has been pointed out in other research studies, head injuries have been overemphasised, even though the use of a helmet may have made a difference on the Tasmanian dairy farm mentioned above.

Quadwatch

Just over 12 months ago, the Australian Government announced Quadwatch, a program described as

“… a community based network bringing together farmers, community groups, emergency services and local government”.

But the prominent website and banner for QuadWatch on the Safe Work Australia website seems to have disappeared and been replaced with a more mundane site. In September 2013, the Australian Government changed from a Labor government to a conservative coalition government. SafetyAtWorkBlog asked Safe Work Australia if it was aware of any changes to the QuadWatch program. A spokesperson replied:

“The agriculture industry is a national priority for prevention activities under the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022. Improving quad bike safety is one of the areas in this industry for safety improvement. Safe Work Australia will continue to work with farmers, unions, manufacturers, community organisations and regulators to improve quad bike safety.” (link added)

This is fairly non-committal but the government has only just changed hands.

Although the QuadWatch website has lost some colour and movement, the content remains solid and there are commitments made, and relationships built, on the issue of quadbike safety that future governments may find uncomfortable to break. Also there remains a draft code of practice on Managing Risks of Plant in Rural Workplaces, which includes some quadbike content, that needs finalisation.

The latest research report into this area continues to identify the risks associated with riding quadbikes on Australian farms. Tony Lower continues to emphasise the benefits of managing these risks along the established safety principles of the hierarchy of control. The new conservative government may shift the ideological and consultative debate on quadbikes but over the last decade, at least, public awareness of these risks has increased to a level, and continues to increase with each quadbike rider death or serious injury, where inaction by government is unlikely to be tolerated.

The new government’s response to Quadwatch and quadbike safety may indicate its attitude to other matters of workplace health and safety

Kevin Jones

 

 

reservoir, victoria, australia

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