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

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.

The bad news and the good news of New Zealand agricultural safety

On 8 October 2009, New Zealand’s Department of Labour issued a press release that stated

“New research confirms the importance of work in agriculture safety and health. The research by Otago University’s Injury Prevention Research Unit found that the rate of serious injuries and fatalities on New Zealand farms has remained high in contrast to declines in other industries over the past two decades.”

The release states that DoL continues to place a high importance on preventative action in the agriculture sector, an undeniably important economic sector for New Zealand.

OR72 coverHowever, what was most noticeable was that

“the rate of serious injuries and fatalities on New Zealand farms has remained high in contrast to declines in other industries over the past two decades.”

Surely this is not a good news story.  Twenty years of preventative interventions in the agriculture sector have not been as successful as those in other industries.

SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted DoL for clarification.  The commitment of DoL to the agriculture sector was re-emphasized.  DoL responded very promptly to our enquiries and provided links to additional information including the original research report.

Part of the Otago University project was a literature review in the sector from 2000 to 2008.  The major findings were

  • “The most common mechanisms for serious non-fatal injury and fatal injury include agricultural machinery (including vehicles –tractors, ATVs), livestock and falls for all age groups, in all three regions under review.
  • The exposures and risks of disease in the agricultural sector currently being researched and where researchers agree there is a need for further research include:
    • exposure to dust and organic materials and the relation to respiratory disorders;
    • exposure to pesticides, herbicides and insecticides and associations with various cancers including: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; prostate cancer, breast and ovarian cancer, leukaemia, multiple myeloma and brain cancers;
    • environmentally associated cancers (for example, skin cancer and cancer of the lip) and their association with production practice.
  • Occupational fatalities in agriculture remain high, despite decreases in occupational fatality rates for other industry groups, in all three regions over the last decade. The research demonstrates that there are various groups that are particularly at risk, these include:
    • men in all age groups;
    • older workers/farmers;
    • migrant and seasonal workers;
    • youths (particularly those aged between 11-15 years and male)
    • Children (particularly male children)
    • Farm-owners and managers, with respect to intentional fatal self harm injury) again predominantly men.”

Several other surveys were undertaken, one by telephone.  Those results are also telling.  Amongst the results was this paragraph concerning injuries:

“With respect to injury, thirteen percent (13%) of farmers from the AgriBase™ sample had had an injury, in the three months prior to interview, which had restricted their activity for a half a day or more and/or which required medical treatment from a health professional.  Generally these injuries were reasonably serious and respondents reported work capacity was poor following injury.  For two-thirds of those injured it was over a week before they could resume normal farming duties; yet only a third of these respondents made a claim to the Accident Compensation Corporation.”

Key findings of the report for governments include

“….there is no long term prevention strategy for injury and disease that specifically addresses the agricultural sector.”

“The dominant stereotype of the farmer as being rugged, independent and self-sufficient (and masculine) is also largely uncritically accepted by many stakeholders. These and associated stereotypes about the nature of rural life and notions of rural isolation are problematic and potentially can undermine effective health interventions in this sector.”

“…there is a tendency for initiatives to be ad-hoc and for there to be a lack of co-ordination and coherence, and in some instances, where there are some questions around the efficacy of various interventions, an unwillingness to accept that there are problems.”

There are many others that discuss a lack of resources, dubious targeting, a lack of coordination and inter-organisational politics.

For farmers and other individuals, some of the findings include:

“In connection to this evident stoicism was a vocational identification to the work they do; most could not imagine not farming, it was not just a job.  The implications here are that they would often keep on working with an injury (such as a back condition), as doing the work was more important, not just economically, but also in terms of their identity, and an underlying belief that it would heal itself if they just kept on going.”

“Many said they were too tired at the end of a working day to read about injury and disease or to go onto the internet to learn about it either.  When they opened the paper they wanted to know about local and international news, not health matters.  This presents some real challenges for the sector in terms of disseminating information.”

The University of Otago also issued a media release on the research project.  This release reflects the tone and results of the research project much more accurately.

The whole report reflects the current status of safety in the agricultural sector in New Zealand.  It reports on good intentions in the wrong areas, a need to look beyond the stereotypes and the need for sustained intervention.

What seems to be needed is a creative and effective response from the Government that acknowledges that past strategies have failed, or at least that some of them have.  All the existing strategies need reviewing to determine which have shown promise and could succeed if appropriate resources were allocated.  Inspiration needs to be sought from within the region and from around the world.  If this has already been sought and found wanting, the sad reality will be that it falls to New Zealand to make the change.

New Zealand’s DoL may already be facing this bleak reality.  In their media statement, the Department’s Chief Adviser, Safety and Health, Dr Geraint Emrys said:

“The Department will use the findings of the research to inform policy decisions and to better target operational interventions to make them more effective in reducing the injury and death toll in agriculture.”

New Zealand could lead the world in this important area.

Kevin Jones

Handedness is not considered when investigating a workplace incident

Ha01-012Robyn Parkin has completed her small survey of handedness in safety management.  Initial results are below:

  • “92% of respondents stated that their companies do not ask whether a person is left- or right-handed on their accident report form, and 77% do not consider handedness as a possible root cause of accidents.
  • 13 companies stated that they may consider handedness where ergonomics is a possible issue, eg with poor access to equipment controls.”

More details will be available in an upcoming edition of New Zealand’s Safeguard magazine.  Robyn Parkin can be contacted about her research at robyn@impac.co.nz

Kevin Jones

When ATV helmets are “best practice”

A recent media statement from the New Zealand Department of Labour on all-terrain vehicle (ATV) safety is annoying and disappointing.

On 15 September 2009, the Palmerston North District Court today fined farmer Trevor Mark Schroder $25,000 and ordered him to pay reparation of $20,000 to his employee John Haar over an  ATV accident on 26 November 2008 that left Mr Haar with serious head injuries.

Dr Geraint Emry, the DoL Chief Adviser for Health and Safety, says

“…Mr Haar was riding an ATV supplied by Mr Schroder when he apparently drove into a wire used to direct cows into specific areas of the farm.  Mr Haar had not been wearing a helmet and the severity of his injuries increased as a consequence.  Nor had he been told that the wire he rode into had been put across the race.”

atvguide2 coverThe statement goes on to state

“The Agricultural Guidelines – Safe Use of ATVs on New Zealand Farms – advise that the wearing of helmets by quad bike riders is considered best practice.”

SafetyAtWorkBlog strongly knows that New Zealand is very active in ATV safety but finds it hard to believe that the “wearing of helmets…is considered best practice”.  This admits that, in using ATVs, personal protective equipment is the best hazard control option available.

The guidelines mentioned above are from 2003 and do mention ROPS:

“Until such time as there is evidence to the contrary, farmers have the right to choose whether or not they fit ROPS to their ATVs.”

The NZ DoL and, by inference, the Chief Adviser are quoting a 2003 guideline as best practice in 2009?!

Relying on helmets may be the reality but is also an admission of defeat with ATV designers and manufacturer.  In many circumstances ATVs cannot be fitted with roll-over protective structures (ROPS) due to the nature of the work – orcharding for example.  But Australia and New Zealand insist on ROPS for tractors, with similar criteria and exceptions to ATVs.

VWA Farm_ROPs coverIn one ROPS FAQ from the NZ DoL it says

“Evidence both in New Zealand and overseas has shown that the risk of injury in a tractor overturn can be substantially reduced when the tractor is fitted with ROPS of the appropriate standard.”

and

“Where the nature of the operation makes it not practical for ROPS to be fitted to an agricultural tractor, then, under the terms of this code of practice, the General Manager, Occupational Safety & Health Service, may issue a notice excluding the tractor from the requirement to have a ROPS.”

Some States in Australia have had rebate schemes for ROPS for many years.

It is suggested that a better level of driver protection from rollovers is evident on forklifts through the use of seatbelt and an integrated protective structure.  Applying logic to safety is fraught with danger but the rollover hazard is the same whether in a warehouse or a paddock and having only a helmet for a forklift driver would be absurd and unacceptable.  Why is only a helmet considered best practice for ATV drivers?

Rather than comparing ATVs to motorcycles as in this 2003 report, the comparison should be between ATVs and tractors or, maybe, forklifts.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says this about ROPS and ATVs in June 2008:

Many ATVs have a high centre of gravity, and are prone to tipping over when cornering or being driven on a slope. Rollover is the leading cause of injury associated with ATVs – riders can be crushed or trapped under an overturned machine.

If you attach a rollover protection structure (ROPS) to your ATV, make sure it’s securely fastened, doesn’t interfere with rider mobility and doesn’t raise the ATV’s centre of gravity. Contact OSH for guidelines on how to fit ROPS safely, and make sure the ROPS is strong enough to protect you.

So why aren’t ROPS considered best practice by the DoL?

The ATV injury case quoted above is unlikely to have occurred if the ATV had some form of structure around the driver or, admittedly, the wire was more visible or known to the driver.  The relevance in this case was that the helmet most probably reduced the severity of the injury but would not have avoided contact with the wire.

Research is occurring on ROPS for ATVs but the rollover hazard has existed for as long as ATVs have existed.  Are ATVs simply unsuitable for the work they are being used for?  Is the design wrong for workplace use?  Are they being advertised or promoted for inappropriate use?  Should farm workers be encouraged legislatively or financially to fit ROPS?  Perhaps the only safe ATV is a tractor?

Is the requirement for ROPS for tractors, but only helmets for ATVs, an acceptable double standard for workplace safety?

Kevin Jones

NZ proposes new exposure levels on formaldehyde

The New Zealand of Department of Labour is continuing its negotiations on new exposure levels for formaldehyde.

The latest proposed exposure levels for formaldehyde are 0.3 ppm (8 hour TWA) and 0.6 ppm (STEL).  Currently the levels in New Zealand are 1ppm (ceiling).

According to US OSHA, it’s exposure standard is

1910.1048(c)(1)

TWA: The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) as an 8-hour TWA.

1910.1048(c)(2)

Short Term Exposure Limit (STEL): The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds two parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (2 ppm) as a 15-minute STEL.

WorkSafe BC says

BC‘s current 8-hour TWA of 0.3 ppm is well below levels capable of causing adverse health effects and protects the worker from the pungent, unpleasant odour of formaldehyde.

NZ DoL is also discussing dropping there exposure levels for soft wood dust from 5mg/m3 to 1mg/m3.

The cancer risks of formaldehyde have been investigated over some time and the weight of evidence shows that this chemical is a probable human carcinogen.

Kevin Jones

River death leads to OHS prosecution

The prosecution of a New Zealand adventure company, Black Sheep Adventures, over the death of Englishwoman Emily Jordan has received more press in England than in Australia but the case should be watched by all OHS professionals.

One report provides a useful summary of the fatal incident

“Emily Jordan drowned while riverboarding on the Kawarau river in New Zealand’s south island in April last year [2008].

The 21-year-old former Alice Ottley School (now RGSAO) pupil was travelling with her boyfriend after graduating from Swansea University with a first class degree in law.

The riverboarding company Black Sheep Adventures Ltd and its director Brad McLeod have been charged with failing to ensure the actions or inaction of employees did not harm Miss Jordan.”

The same article is an illustration of the importance of regular communication with the family of the deceased by the Authorities, even if the parties are on opposite sides of the globe.

The family established The Emily Jordan Foundation and a eulogy about Emily is available which provides a clearer understanding of what was lost in this tragedy.

Black Sheep Adventures have also been charged under the Health and Safety Employment Act 1992, with failing “failure to take all practical steps to ensure the safety of employees and the prevention of possible hazards.”  The company and its director have pleaded not guilty.

The Birmingham Post is continuing to cover the case including the start of the trial due for next week.

Maritime New Zealand who are prosecuting the company instigated a review of the river boarding industry in late 2008.

Kevin Jones

Another mining death in Western Australia

Rarely have workplace fatalities gained as much political attention as the current spate of deaths in Western Australia.  Most have related to the iron ore operations of BHP Billiton but, according to one media report, on 8 August 2009

“New Zealander Daniel Williams, 26, died … at the Kanowna Belle mine site near Kalgoorlie, operated by Barrick Gold, after falling from an iron ore path into a hole.”

The media report clearly indicates that there are wider issues in the enforcement of OHS in that State other than just the operations of Barrick Gold.

Not surprisingly the unions are calling for a broader inquiry into safety of the industry.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has heard that Daniel Williams fell over 30 metres while checking a blockage in an ore pass grizzly shortly after midnight.  Perhaps, this should be considered an example of a fall from height moreso than a mining death.

Barrick Gold has been contacted for any additional information

Kevin Jones

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