SafeWorkSA has released a series of single page safety advices on a range of occupational health and safety (OHS) topics including the use of quad bikes in agricultural workplaces. The information included and the tone used indicates that the debate over quad bike safety may be settling.
The advice is clear and concise with some new safety perspectives but there are a couple of odd elements. The advice does say that the suitability of a quad bike should be assessed prior to purchasing but doesn’t suggest alternatives. These options should be expanded elsewhere on SafeWorkSA’s website or farming publications.
On the issue of Crush Protection Devices (CPDs), the safety regulator seems clear:
“consider quad bikes that have a crush protection device (CPD) fitted by the manufacturer, or for existing quad bikes have one retro-fitted by a competent person”.
Importantly the CPD is not a recommended device; SafeWorkSA only says these should be considered. Recent sales figures for agricultural transport equipment seems to indicate that farmers are considering the risks and are choosing to avoid the CPD debate by purchasing a record-number side-by-side vehicles than quad bikes. This is an excellent safety outcome.
The complexity of the quad bike safety debate could be seen in the potential conflict between the quoted advice above and other advice from SafeWorkSA that urges farmers to
“follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for using the bike compromise its stability and any suitable attachments that won’t compromise its stability”
Many manufacturers have said that the fitting of CPD’s are not recommended, so what does one do? It seems you cut through the political bullshit and upgrade to a vehicle that has roll protection integrated into the vehicle’s design. The ultimate benefit is that farmers are choosing safer vehicles which, in many cases, also allow children to accompany the farmer providing farming families with greater flexibility, although the risks of children in workplaces needs to be seriously considered.
It seems odd that a South Australian safety advice would not include local incident statistics but in this case, according to one media report, South Australia has not had a quadbike-related fatality since 2012. This has been used as part of the reason for South Australia not joining other States in instigating a rebate scheme for quad bike safety improvements.
Recent statistics from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety show that South Australia has had few agricultural deaths and incident for 2016.
SafeWorkSA states that
“Quad bike owners should be aware of the inherent risks associated with quad bikes.” (emphasis added)
In most OHS circumstances, the SafetyAtWorkBlog criticises the use of “inherent” as this often leads to categorising incidents as unavoidable, unpreventable or an Act of God. It is odd for a safety regulator to identify “inherent risks” for it is possible to ask “if the risk in this equipment is inherent, why is the equipment allowed to be on sale?” particularly when less-risky alternatives are available. This was the question asked in the 1980s which led to trikes being banned in the USA.
SafeWorkSA released a media statement prior to Christmas about quad bike safety upon which the advice above expanded. The safety advice is topical for the Summer months, particularly when farms also have a lot of visitors. It is also a good reminder of a more comprehensive farm safety guidebook released in August 2016.
Australia seems to be getting to a settled position on quad bike safety. Manufacturers keep recommending driver-based interventions and helmets where safety advocates want a quad bike redesign and additional CPD devices. Perhaps that settled position is a stalemate. Regardless of the details of each perspective, farmers, particularly in those States with a farm safety rebate, it is suggested, are choosing safety in the purchase of safer replacement vehicles.
The research on quad bike rollovers was aimed at providing evidence for OHS regulators and vehicle manufacturers to change legislative and design requirements, respectively, but more tangible change seems to have come from some vehicle manufacturers who stayed away from the politics, anticipated demand and supplied to that demand.
The safety advice from SafeWorkSA is measured and timely and, hopefully, indicative of the agricultural safety debate in 2017.