Australia’s Comcare issues safety alert on quad bikes

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On 22 January 2010 Comcare issued a safety alert concerning the use of quad bikes (available on the Comcare website from 25 January 2010):

“Employers who own and operate quad bikes should be aware of the hazards and potential safety risks.

Following some recent accidents while operating quad bikes, a draft Code of Practice is currently being developed by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and Distributors [FCAI] relating to the ‘Use of All Terrain Vehicles in the Workplace’.

Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) has also formed a working party comprising of OHS Regulators and industry representatives to look at strategies to improve quad bike safety. Continue reading “Australia’s Comcare issues safety alert on quad bikes”

Move your way to better health

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Further to the recent posting on cardiovascular disease research, Dr David Dunstan participated in an online media briefing on 12 January 2010. (Video and audio interviews have begun to appear on line)

It is often difficult to identify control measures for workplace hazards from the raw research data.  Dr Dunstan, this morning elaborated on the possible workplace control measures that employers can design into workplaces in order to reduce the CVD risk from prolonged sedentary work.   Continue reading “Move your way to better health”

Sit down, get to work, get sick

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Sitting for longer than four hours while watching television is likely to increase one’s risk of suffering a cardio-vascular disease (CVD), according to a new study reported in “Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association”  in January 2010.

David Dunstan

The research was headed by Dr David Dunstan, Head of the Physical Activity Laboratory in the Division of Metabolism and Obesity at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia.  The study is Australian but can easily be transposed to other countries. (Several audio reports are now available online, one from NPR)

The significance for safety professionals comes not from the published report itself but the accompanying media release where Dr Dunstan speculates on the broader social issues behind his findings:

“What has happened is that a lot of the normal activities of daily living that involved standing up and moving the muscles in the body have been converted to sitting…  Technological, social, and economic changes mean that people don’t move their muscles as much as they used to – consequently the levels of energy expenditure as people go about their lives continue to shrink.   For many people, on a daily basis they simply shift from one chair to another – from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television.” Continue reading “Sit down, get to work, get sick”

Nightclub fires and evacuations

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Mainstream press around the world reported on the fire in a Russian nightclub over the weekend in which 100 people were killed.  One report says the nightclub owner has been arrested quotes the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev as saying

“All that has happened can only be described as a crime….I think this is absolutely clear….You have noted that a criminal investigation has been launched.  This is not a premeditated crime, but that does not reduce the gravity of the consequences. A huge number of people were killed.”

The fire reportedly started when stage pyrotechnics set fire to the ceiling.

Some readers, particularly in the United States would see distinct similarities with the  February 20 2003 in which 100 people were killed and over 200 injured.  A fire, also started by stage pyrotechnics, occurred in the Station nightclub on Rhode Island.  That whole event was captured on video.  The band’s tour manager who started the pyrotechnics, Daniel Biechele, was charged with 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter, pleaded guilty and served 4 years of a 15 year jail sentence.

The nightclub owners did not contest their charges and received similar sentences to Biechele.  Civil penalties added up to around $US175 million.

Given that the Station fire was six years ago, it is hard to understand why any nightclub would even consider using such stage pyrotechnics.

Other nightclub fires should not be forgotten although they received less coverage in the Western media.  Those with which SafetyAtWorkBlog is familiar include the 2002 fires in the Caracas nightclub, La Guajira where 47 people died, mainly from smoke inhalation.  Rumours had it that the nightclub had exceeded its allowable client limit.  Investigations showed that fire exits were not clear and the fire extinguishers were inoperative.

Although there are several incidents going back to the 1970s one that received a huge amount of attention was the December  30 2004 fire in the Republica Cromagnon nightclub in Buenos Aires. (The Wikipedia entry for this incident has a very good list of similar incidents)

The Republica Cromagnon nightclub had several of its doors shut with wire or padlocks.  The nightclub had 4,000 patrons in a premises licensed for 1,100.  Initial reports said that 715 people were injured and over 190 died from a fire that was started by a flare.

The incident generate three days of rioting and street protests of thousands of people, many were relatives of the dead.

In this case, not only were the club’s owners jailed on murder charges but city building inspectors and police officers were charged with manslaughter and corruption.  The inspectors allowed the nightclub to operate with inadequate safety standards.  The police accepted bribes from the owners and did not report the overcrowding or use of flares.

In November 2005, the mayor Buenos Aires, Anibal Ibarra, was suspended from office after the legislature voted to impeach him over issues related to the Republica Cromagnon fire.

Managing safety in nightclubs is a complex business as the industry overlaps many jurisdictional areas from workplace safety to building design to security to emergency response.  As the world moves towards the main season of celebrations with Christmas, New Year and others it is worth considering some of the more useful OHS guidelines for nightclub operation, even though such measures should have been considered well before now.

Going from the violations related to the Rhode Island fire by OSHA it would be expected for a nightclub owner to

  • Remove any highly flammable materials from the interior of the structure
  • Make sure that exit doors are visible at all times
  • have a written emergency action plan
  • have a written fire prevention plan
  • nominate and train staff to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees
  • review fire hazards with employees.

Seattle has a nightclub patron safety handout.

One guide from Virginia specifically references the Station nightclub fire.

The Health and Safety Executive has a guide to assessing risks in nightclubs as well as general OHS advice for the hospitality and leisure industries.

WorkSafe Victoria has a guide on crowd control which may also be useful

Many local jurisdictions have guidelines, or the industry itself has developed guidelines, to assist in the management of nightclub crowds.  SafetyAtWorkBlog urges owners and staff to undertake reviews prior to peak times.

Kevin Jones

ROPS and Quad Bikes – the failure of ATV manufacturers and OHS regulators

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The Hierarchy of Controls has some questionable OHS applications to psychosocial hazards but it applies very well to “traditional” hazards, those involving plant.  The Hierarchy also emphasizes that the first step in any hazard control is to consider whether the hazard can be eliminated.  But what happens when the designers of equipment and plant know that a design can be made safer but do nothing to improve it?

For almost two decades some Australian OHS regulators have provided rebates to farmers to fit roll over protective structures (ROPS) to tractors to prevent deaths and injuries to the drivers from rollover or flips.  In 2009, one would be hard pressed to find a tractor that does not have its safety features emphasised as a sales benefit.  ROPS on tractors have been compulsory since 1998 in most States.

On 17 November 2009, Workplace Standards Tasmania issued a safety alert which, like the New Zealand ATV guidelines, advocates helmets and not ROPS even though OHS legislative principles say that elimination of hazards is the aim. The Tasmanian safety alert outlines the reasons for the safety alert

“Recent information shows there are, on average, 15 fatalities a year associated with using quad bikes in the Australian rural industry sector. Many more people are injured.

A recent coronial inquest into seven fatal incidents involving quad bikes (two in Tasmania and five in Victoria) has sparked a renewed call for improved safety on quad bikes.

As a result, Workplace Standards Tasmania has adopted a policy of zero tolerance of breaches of duty of care responsibilities with quad bikes.”

Zero tolerance of breaches of duty”?  The Tasmanian OHS Act places this duty on the designers of plant

(1) A person who designs, manufactures, imports or supplies any plant or structure for use at a workplace must so far as is reasonably practicable –

(a) ensure that the design and construction of the plant or structure is such that persons who use the plant or structure properly are not, in doing so, exposed to risks to their health and safety;…..

SafetyAtWorkBlog is awaiting comments from Workplace Standards Tasmania on the elimination of ATV rollover hazards.

As a terminological aside, there is a growing movement to rename All Terrain Vehicles as Quad Bikes because the fatality and injury data clearly shows that the vehicles cannot be driven in “all terrains”.

Five recent fatalities involving quad bikes, mentioned in the safety alert, should spark some investigation into whether the design of the plant contributed in any way to the fatalities.  Yet the safety alert makes no mention of design other than, tenuously, encouraging farmers to make sure

“…your quad bike is properly maintained and used according to the manufacturer’s specifications.”

This is a reasonable statement but if it was possible to make the vehicle safer, to save one’s own life and livelihood, by adding a ROPS, why wouldn’t you?

The manufacturer’s specifications are certain to be suitable to that quad bike but what if the quad bike design is itself not “fit for purpose”?  Plenty of other machines and vehicles are being redesigned to accommodate poor or inappropriate driver behaviour.  What makes quad bike so sacrosanct?

Victoria had a major opportunity for reform in this area through a parliamentary inquiry into farm deaths and injuries in August 2005.  Many farm safety advocates had high hopes for major change on ATV safety but design changes were not recommended.

According to the farm safety report

“Some witnesses suggested that roll over protection structures for ATVs should be made compulsory. Others, particularly representatives on behalf of the ATV industry, argued that fitting of a roll over protective structure to an ATV would adversely affect the handling and utility characteristics of these vehicles.”
Extensive research was undertaken by the Monash University Accident Research Centre which found
“…that, in the event of an ATV accident, “if the occupant is adequately restrained [with a suitable safety harness] within a protective roll over structure, the severity of [injuries caused during] the roll over event is dramatically reduced.”
Contrary evidence on ROPS was presented on behalf of the vehicle manufacturers.  The Parliamentary Committee understandably found
“To the Committee’s knowledge, there is no existing example of a roll over protective structure device that satisfies requirements for driver protection without substantially reducing the handling characteristics of ATVs. This report cannot, based on available evidence, make any recommendations concerning the fitting of roll over protective structures to ATVs.”
The UK’s Health & Safety Executive in 2002 undertook a detailed survey on the issue of ROPS and, among many recommendations said
“The use of the “safe cell” technology offers a number of imaginative approaches as alternatives to traditional structures, particularly for smaller machinery, and should not be overlooked.  Their contribution could be invaluable if relevant techniques were validated and became legally acceptable.”
Farmers, equipment manufacturers and OHS advocates are understandably confused when there is conflicting information (but then uncertainty breeds stagnation which is likely to advantage those who do not want change).
An investigation into ATV safety funded by the New Zealand Department of Labour in 2002 provided the following conclusion

“… it appears that the risk of using ATVs is significant, however there are some possible measures that could be put in place to reduce injuries, particularly those that are more severe and/or fatal. It seems that appropriate training is the most promising factor particularly because of the strong impact human behaviour has on the outcomes of the accidents.

In addition, the high risk for a fatal outcome when ATVs are rolled over, pinning the driver Reducing Fatalities in All-Terrain Vehicle Accidents in New Zealand underneath, suggests that further consideration and research is needed regarding the use of ROPS and/or any other measures that can prevent an ATV from rolling over.”

One Australian manufacturer accepted the challenge and has designed a ROPS for ATVs that shows enormous promise. QB Industries has developed the Quadbar, a passive roll over protection structure.  A demonstration video is available to view online.
It is understood that the Australian distributors of ATVs are not supportive of the safety innovation of QB Industries.  Apparently the distributors believe that the Quadbar increases the risk to the rider and that the safety claims are misleading.  The distributors are also concerned that the Quadbar may jeopardise the manufacturer’s warranty.
These concerns may be valid but surely these need to be independently tested and, if the device saves the lives and limbs of farmers and other riders, incorporated into the design in such a way that the vehicles become safer, regardless of the actions of the individual.  After all, the safer design of motor vehicles has progressed substantial from the days of Ralph Nader’s investigations in the 1960’s to such an extent that safety is a major sales strategy.
One independent test conducted for QB Industries by the University of Southern Queensland reported this about the QuadBar:
  1. The Quad Bar did not impede rider operation of the quad bike during normal operation (based on limited riding by the Chief Investigator).
  2. In low speed sideways roll over, the Quad Bar arrests the roll over and prevents the ATV from resting in a position that could trap and asphyxiate the rider.
  3. In higher speed sideways rollover, the Quad Bar impedes the roll over and prevents the ATV from resting in a position that could trap and asphyxiate the rider. In all tests the Quad Bar provided some clearance between the ground surface and the ATV seat so the rider would be unlikely to be trapped in this space.
  4. In all back flip tests, the Quad Bar arrested the back flip and the quad bike fell to one side.
  5. There were no conditions where the ATV with the Quad Bar fitted rested in a position that was more detrimental to rider safety than the ATV without protection.
If this device did not exist, the advocacy of helmets as the best available safety device  may have been valid but this design has the potential to eliminate the hazard and not just minimise the harm.  Surely it is better to have a farmer walk away from an ATV rollover that to break a neck or have a leg crushed.
The battle that QB industries has had, and continues to have, with quad bike vehicle manufacturers is beginning to reveal tactics by the manufacturers that are reminiscent of those of James Hardie Industries with asbestos and the cigarette manufacturers over lung cancer.
The approach of the OHS regulators to ROPS for ATVs must be reviewed because the dominant position seems to be that helmets are good enough, that no one is striving to eliminate the hazard or and that the Hierarchy of Controls does not apply.
QB Industries has followed the OHS principles and has designed a ROPS that warrants investigation, and the support and encouragement of OHS regulators.  The longer this investigation is ignored, the more people will be killed and injured when using these vehicles.  To not investigate this design would be negligent.