Queensland plans for a safety culture for quad bikes

[Guest Post from Dave Robertson of Quadbar]

Cover of QLD Quad Bike Plan_2016-2019On March 3 2016, the Queensland government released its “Statewide Plan for Improving Quad Bike Safety”. The document covers a wide range of issues but risk controls like substitution and engineering only get small mention.

According to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations,  Grace Grace, the government intends

“…to create a safety culture through education and awareness as the immediate first step toward improving safety outcomes for quad bike users and their passengers.”

It must be noted that the plan covers occupational and recreational use of quad bikes but it is also important that the Statewide Plan does not indicate how the success of the plan and the safety culture model will be assessed.

Under the heading “Priority areas for action” are the following

  1. Community education and awareness about quad bike safety risks;
  2. Improving quad bike operator skills and safety; and
  3. Government leadership in promoting safety.

A summary of these action areas is in the Introduction:

“…. there is a need to create a culture of safety around quad bike use and develop strategies to influence behavioural and attitudinal change in both recreational and work settings. Greater coordination and consistency of management of quad bike safety across government is also necessary.”

Many of those who have been involved in quad safety for many years are very disappointed, with comments like “not more training AGAIN.  Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Below is some of the history of quad bike safety in the United States of America and Australia including what is known about training, and behavioural and attitudinal change.  While good instruction on how to properly use plant in the workplace is a fundamental part of safety, there is little evidence that the approach by the Queensland government will work.


During hearings before the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in 2015 proposing a standard to reduce the risk of injury associated with recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs), Dr Charles Jennissen gave evidence regarding education programs and studies into behaviour of ATVs (quad bikes) and ROVs users.

“We can increase education and knowledge of safety behaviours, but so far we haven’t been very effective in changing behaviours.  Those who had knowledge of what they should be doing, were more likely to be practicing those unsafe behaviours… So we have to …… to engineer that safety into that product, is the most successful way to decrease deaths and injuries.”

At the same hearings, Commissioner Robert Adler said

“It is a fact that it is easier to redesign a product than it is to redesign consumers.”

Commissioner Adler continued in replying to the Polaris representative, Paul Vitrano, that he agrees that education is important but

“I think you have optimised in many respects the possibilities for education my problem is it seems to fall so short, and I look to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) experience with trying to educate consumers about safety belts … In about 1981 they (NHTSA) were so upset at the extremely low usage rate of safety-belts, they undertook a multimillion dollar multiyear education campaign that boosted seatbelt use from about 11% to 13% maybe a little higher than that. Which leads to the conclusion despite our best efforts it doesn’t seem to work.”

History of ATV by Honda says that, in 1988

“Under the agreement (with the CPSC), the ATV industry made a $100-million commitment to expand existing safety programs. Among the many components of this agreement, free training and training incentives were offered to owners and purchasers of new ATVs.  Additionally, distributors would no longer market three-wheel ATVs, repurchasing any unsold three-wheel models from dealer inventory”

ATV fatalities fell slightly after 1988 (possibly because three-wheel ATVs were no longer been sold) and then continued to rise again in the US, from 250 in 1988 to over 800 deaths per year by 2006. Despite the $100-million price tag, there is no evidence “free training and training incentives” made any, or a significant, difference.

The USA still have their ‘free training’ program however uptake is very low.


HWSA quad_bike_posterHeads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) launched their “Quad Bike Industry Solutions Program” in October 2009. Meetings were held over a 2-year period between most of the interested parties including manufacturers, regulators and training providers. The final document reads under the headings Key strategy – Training and Instruction, Securing compliance:

  • within 6 months no quad bike will be sold for farm use through dealer networks without the purchaser having been formally referred to a training provider
  • within 2 years only farm employees who have received training will be operating quad bikes on farms
  • within 5 years all operators of quad bikes on farms would be required to be able to demonstrate that they have undertaken an accredited training course

HWSA issued a press release on the 26th October 2011 that read

“Australasia’s work health and safety regulators will today launch a pilot quad bike training package as part of an ambitious industry strategy to reduce fatalities and injuries from on farm use of quad bikes The pilot training package will be launched by the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA), at TAFE NSW-Western Institute, Dubbo College, Rural Skills Centre.”

About 12 months after the launch I was talking to one of the staff at Dubbo on another matter and during that conisation asked how the training program was going. He replied that “it has all fallen over due to a lack of interest”.  He said that only a handful of farmers had been trained and that the quad training was back to where it was prior to the launch.  Now training was mostly students of the college and the occasional outside group when sufficient numbers warranted it.

Research studies into training of on road car and motorcycle users over and above what is required to get a licence show that this training has no benefits.  For instance, the study ‘Does an on-road motorcycle coaching program reduce crashes in novice riders? A randomised control trial’ concludes

“There was no evidence that this on-road motorcycle rider coaching program reduced the risk of crash, and we found an increase in crash-related risk factor”

With large warnings prominent on either side of the handlebars of each quad it is difficult to see what more could be gained by the Queensland’s proposed education and awareness campaign.

David Robertson
Managing Director,
Quadbar (Aust)


Categories agriculture, ATV, Duty of Care, evidence, government, OHS, quad bike, safety, safety culture, transportTags ,

3 thoughts on “Queensland plans for a safety culture for quad bikes”

  1. The FCAI are very happy with the Queenslanders
    “These same safety practices have been promoted by the industry for many years, so we intend to support and promote the Queensland campaign in order to improve safety outcomes for all ATV riders,” said FCAI Chief Executive Tony Weber.
    However they have been ineffective to date

  2. Seems to me to be about as helpful an approach as “we won’t make people wear seatbelts – we’ll just train them not to have car crashes”. Humans make human errors.

  3. Dave, there is a similarity in the Queensland strategy to what is happening in mental health strategies. Queensland wants to apply a strategy to work and recreational quadbikes yet work and non-work require different strategies because there are different control relationships, just as there are in public health and workplace health.

    One of my colleagues suggest to me yesterday that the recreational quadbike strategy should focus on public liability (there are parallels with WorkSafe Victoria’s current position). Public liability insurers are likely to set one premium for a recreational quadbike without a CPD and a lower premium if a CPD is fitted. WorkSafe Victoria has already addressed the work-related quad bike risks by clarifying the state of knowledge on CPDs – install one because it will be an effective safety control, don’t install one and, if you have an incident, the penalty could be higher than it needed to be.

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