New research into quad bike safety by the University of New South Wales (UNSW) shows increasing maturity in the discussions on the safety of quad bikes and farms. According to a 2 September report on Australian ABC radio, more attention is now needed for quadbike rider’s actions, workplace conditions and choices.
The attention on the suitability and design of quad bikes has dominated the safety debate over the last few years. There is no doubt that the design of quadbikes could have been made safer, or that new vehicle models offer better stability or that Operator Protection Devices (OPDs) offer a safety improvement.
The focus on riders has been almost exclusively about “active riding” techniques and the use and suitability of personal protective equipment, such as helmets. The UNSW researchers are now looking into issues regarding:
“how their bikes are used and what sort of tasks, and what sort of rules farmers have to keep themselves safe…”
“….how do farmers get into trouble, how do people get into trouble when they’re riding these quad bikes? What is it about these quad bikes that result in someone being seriously injured or killed?”
“…we look through a lot of the coronial files, we saw people were doing things which were sort of warned against behaviour. They were intoxicated, driving at night where they didn’t have sufficient light. They were doing donuts or doing silly things on them…”
Some would say that this is the area that researchers and occupational health and safety (OHS) regulators should already have been looking at. That is true to some extent but it was first necessary to break the denial of quadbike manufacturers that ALL the injuries and fatalities were the fault of riders. Manufacturers may argue that researching the behaviour of riders would have removed the debates over redesign but recent coronial findings have emphasised the validity of applying the hierarchy of controls to quadbikes and so engineering controls and redesign deserved their early consideration.
The latest discussions place quadbike operations in the context of farms-as-workplaces and the OHS obligations for risk assessments of any working environment.
Researcher Dr Emma Webster stated that future of research in this area will be looking at:
“…what other types of things that people are doing, and to understand better what are some of the high risk activities and to then better inform the types of rules that can be implemented on farms. “
Such research is an enormous challenge as it broadens from one particular article of plant to the safety culture of farming, but it is one that needs pursuing.