Coincidentally, as an article about quad bike safety was being uploaded to this blog, details of the release of Tasmanian coronial findings were received. The findings were released by Coroner Simon Cooper on August 25 2017 and were not reported widely.
The Coroner investigated seven deaths related to quad bikes but only two occurred on workplaces or as part of performing work – Heather Richardson and Roger Larner. Curiously, WorkSafe Tasmania did not investigate these work-related deaths. Coroner Cooper notes:
“I observe that WorkSafe Tasmania did not investigate any of the deaths. The Director of Industry Safety’s submission said that WorkSafe Tasmania had no record of receiving any report as to the deaths of Mr Jensen, Mr Bonney, Mr Forsyth, Mrs Percy and Mr Green. It is understandable that no reports of those deaths were received by WorkSafe as each death arose out of the recreational use of a quad bike. However, no investigation was carried out by WorkSafe into either Mrs Richardson’s or Mr Larner’s death. There was no evidence as to why neither was investigated.” (page 8)
It is little surprise that the Coroner has recommended mandatory training and the wearing of helmets as these were also recommended in recent inquests in Queensland and New South Wales. The Coroner clearly had all the relevant information from those inquiries.
The fitting of Crush Protection Devices (CPDs) to quad bikes was discussed but the findings imply that the argue was poorly put. The Coroner describes this issue as “the area of most difficulty at the inquest” and the comparison between CPDs on quad bikes and rollover protection (ROPs) devices on tractors was dismissed by the Coroner, who said
“Any comparison of quad bikes to tractors is erroneous and not supported by the evidence.”
Coroner Cooper chose not to reexamine the research into CPDs, instead relying on the NSW and Queensland inquests.
The Coroner’s determination on this issue seems not to have been helped by the evidence of Engineer John Lambert. The Coroner’s findings include several pages of transcript and this comment:
” I reject Mr Lambert’s evidence. He evinced an attachment to the cause of fitting operator protection systems that was simply not justifiable on the basis of any objective evidence and which was wholly inconsistent with the role of an expert witness. He had conducted no tests, at all, and simply asked the court to accept his opinion, without providing a single rational reason why it should. His evidence was that of an advocate, and a vocal one at that, rather than an expert. I found his evidence to be extremely unsatisfactory.”
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) was represented during the inquest and has already issued a media statement about the findings. On the issue of CPDs, FCAI states:
“This coronial finding is consistent with previous findings of NSW and QLD coroners, who, having carefully reviewed the scientific evidence, both declined to recommend fitment of CPDs. The industry believes that this finding should be recognised and accepted by stakeholders, including regulators, and that it should encourage focus on advocacy of the safety practices that are known to save lives: helmets, training, children and passengers off inappropriate vehicles, and following the manufacturer’s recommendations for safe use of ATVs”.
New Zealand recommends CPDs. Australia does not. In one sense this contrast does not matter. The focus is to reduce death and injury of those riding quad bikes for work and the legislation requires this to be only as far as is reasonably practicable. The arguments are about the position in the band of legislative compliance that ASFAIRP allows and at the moment, in Australia, practicability is at the lower level of that compliance band.
The continuation of this lack of clarity is not helpful but farmers appear to be cutting through what they see as a fringe argument between manufacturers and regulators by increasingly preferring side-by-side vehicles to quad bikes for work purposes. That purchase choice, aided by government rebates, kills the quad bike safety debate and allows farmers to concentrate on working their farms …. safely.