A recent Croakey post raising concerns about the safety of quad bikes has been generating quite a bit of discussion around the traps.
Its author, Dr Yossi Berger, the National OHS Co-ordinator for the Australian Workers Union, returns to the fray today, arguing that an effective regulatory mechanism is needed. He suggests we call it QuadWatch…
Dr Berger writes:
“Assume that a reasonable proportion of quad bike riders (across all types, most industries, most tasks) have now been trained, that some of them will wear helmets some of the time doing some tasks. Assume that untrained kids under 17 will not ride these machines, and some of those who do will wear helmets.
Assume farmers will start to designate certain areas as no go zones, some with speed limits, others with various other restrictions. Assume that only approved accessories will be used in an intelligent and very careful manner……And so on.
In other words some of the nominated causes of serious quad bike injuries and fatalities would be fixed or protected against. And that – it seems to me – is a fond wish of the industry. How can it not be?! With so many fatalities and injuries related to a product they make, obviously they’d dearly like to see that stopped.
Assume – for the sake of conversation – that no fundamental design changes to tackle rollovers are made to any quads.
Now, in the light of day, consider this: how likely are the above assumptions to be true?
Add this to the mix: farming is an industry where a lot of machinery is used much of the time and often urgently. Time itself is scarce in the attempt to try and do all the jobs that need/ought to be done, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to manage. Frequently this workplace is also the family home. Now add problems with banks, with fences, with animals, with water, not to mention any house maintenance…….
In short, there are so many calls on farmers and their families that the focus will be on getting the many jobs done, just keeping up; this amounts to constant, unrelenting pressure, constant pre-occupation with just keeping up. Under such circumstances, and with this kind of focus, OHS – unfortunately – will generally be neglected.
Where there are employees on these farm,s OHS laws apply to them, but a law on paper with scarce resources for the regulator and few over-worked inspectors never go far enough. None of this is a good justification for poor OHS standards, but it is part description of what really happens. Not on every farm, and there are outstanding farmers in terms of OHS, but this is not the general standard.
I don’t believe that pressing and hassling farmers about OHS under such circumstances will help. I don’t believe prosecuting or threatening farmers will do any better. However, I also don’t believe that just repeating the obvious about helmets, training, terrain, accessories on its own will help.
I tend towards these two suggestions: first, manufacturers must tackle some of their products’ reported rollover proneness, as described in the earlier Croakey post. They must state openly that these machines – as used – are prone to rollover and must be designated as risky machines. It doesn’t help to see an advertisement for such machines ridden almost in airborne mode; not a good vision.
Secondly, perhaps with the help of organisations like the Country Women’s Association, industry and the regulator could create a network to help control this hazard.
Such a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards. All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.
Maybe a discussion could be opened within such groups about panic buttons on the machine. If the quad rolls over this mechanism is activated. Or it could be activated manually. Such activation could be monitored within each region and by each cell.
We seem to be able to do all sorts of wondrous things with technology nowadays. Absolutely amazing! Can’t we use these electronic capacities to save lives on farms?”
I’ve always thought theses were dangerous machines. And now the stats seem to agree.
I’d be keen to see what % of accidents and deaths occurred when these machines were being used as recreational toys (Not strictly work) and what was the blood alcohol level of those injured and killed.
When the word rollovers is mentioned most people think of a car and a sideways roll on a hill or bend but with a lot of tractor deaths the rollover is a “rear up” with the power of the tractor to the rear wheels flipping the tractor over backwards on top of the driver. Not often mentioned is the fact that “controlled” rear ups to almost tipping point are a common feature of many tractor drivers “skills”.
I’m convinced, from experience not research, I hasten to add, that a big % of the rollovers that occur would be from a “controlled” rear up going past the tipping point. Not some “random” accident.
I was wondering if the quad accidents are like this too.
I am sure you remember the WorkSafe Victoria campaign from the early 1980s (I think) where the issue of farm deaths was addressed to farmer’s wives. I think the WorkSafe publication was “It’s a dangerous job”. The logic behind the campaign was that farmers (mostly men) listen to their wives, wives are often partners in the family business, and wives are left to run a farm after the major farm worker dies. We should talk to WorkSafe about how they measured the success of this camapign.
QuadWatch sounds good but the issue of safety and quad bikes is so emotionally charged that there is no-one who could be sufficiently independent from the issue to maintain or moderate.
The manufacturers would have to release all their technical reports and findings about quad bike safety. Safety advocates would have to do the same. Many of the quad bike researchers are happy to conduct the research but prefer to stay out of any political or legal stoush.
The one hope for independent investigation could have come from coronial inquests but coroners’ base their decisions on the evidence presented and can only recommend further research. The OHS regulators similarly do not undertake their own research so make their decisions on the available evidence.
We cannot ever expect research into quadbike safety from manufacturers to recommend a thorough redesign. New designs always imply that something was wrong with the old one but if there is a chance for a constructive dialogue between manufacturers, regulators, ROPS producers and unions, it would a great step forward.
What’s needed now is for someone to put their hand up to host and administer such a taskforce/forum/working group, to set an aim and to set an enforecable timeline.
I think the issue is more than just that quad bikes are dangerous. Any child near machinery is dangerous, yet from what I have seen this is not recognised by people of rural background. I once had to attend a bunch of kids of around 13-14 who rolled a small four wheel drive on their parent’s property. No seat belts, windows open. luckily no-one was seriously injured. But what sort of parent lets children of this age run amok in what is potentially a lethal machine? I was told that it is because of safety, believe it or not, so that when dad get’s injured they will know how to drive him, or themselves, to get help. I guess I don’t need to describe the silliness of this. There needs to be a complete change in culture for these people.
Can’t help responding to Jon Hunt’s post. His generalisation is insulting. “People of rural background” are as diverse as “people of urban background”. We are not an amorphous, indescribably silly group.
Communication and/or re-education is not the answer (after all, administrative controls are the least desirable for any workplace). Safe machinery that does the same job as a quad and is also affordable is the solution.
marian – I’m from a “rural background” or at least from a farm. I’d end to agree with Jon.
I had to stop my kids going back to relative’s farms on account of their (the “mature” relatives not my kids) juvenile attitude to bike, quad, tractor and ute safety. I’m still amzed their kids survived to be grown up
Your family’s situation is unfortunate, Doctor Whom, but you’re just perpetuating the same generalisation and that really does nothing to solve the problem, which still comes back to poorly designed machinery.
The idea that the problem will go away if we can re-educate the users smacks of the “blame the worker” approach so reviled by unions.
I repeat: labelling entire industries and communities across Australia as “juvenile” and “silly” (which in itself seems to fit both labels very well) does absolutely nothing to make quad bikes safer.
Tractors have been made safer with ROPS and enclosed cabins. Time to make quads safer too.
Yossi is right, by the way. Farmers do find it difficult to make their workplaces safe.
Aside from the workload, the workplace is hundreds of acres in size and the workers are often solo, so monitoring adherence to safety policy is not as straightforward as in a warehouse.
The bottom line is this: farms need quads, they are readily abused and in the same way that many city drivers take their cars for granted, many farmers take quads for granted. We’re no more juvenile or silly (thank you Jon and Dr Whom) than the average suburbanite.
If car drivers continue to speed despite tough fines and the network of speed cameras that dot city streets, imagine the battle on farm where there are no speed cameras and fining your staff just isn’t on!
I’m not suggesting for one minute that we stop training people (though formal training is extremely difficult to find), communicating safety policy or counselling when behaviour slips. What I am suggesting is that quads need to be redesigned so they’re inherently safe.
There’s an urgency about this issue. Whilst various conversations and meetings take place around the country about quad bikes safety people are being seriously hurt. Two of my neighbours (for example) have been hurt by quad rollovers in the last 3 months, one seriously. Therre are people walking around today who have this kind of misfortune ‘written’ into the script of their future. This is a very unsettling feeling for anyone working in OHS – how do we reach across to make a practical difference?
A few suggestions: Doctor Whom. Lots of research material available from Associate Professors Lesley Day (Monash Uni Accident Research Centre) and Lyn Fragar. But however you cut the research cake these machines used as agricultural tools by the typical user are dangerous. No dilution arguments (“so are many other machines; rifles aren’t dangerous it’s the people………. etc”) can weaken that fact. More and more research may end up hampering required improvements.
Kevin. It would be a great selling point for manufacturers if they could state that their machine was safe or safer than others. They can’t be happy about their product repeatedly killing people. Why don’t we, as a a community, invent a new safety index for these machines? Along the lines of the crush tests of cars. That is, call it (to begin with) the Quad Stability Index (QSI), get good advice from specialists and physicists as to what factors should be in such a scale. Then test these machines and publish the information.
Yes. I am thinking of a Quad Safety conference mid next year to bring everyone together and debate the difficult issues, not the usual ‘We need more training and helmets’. I’d love to get the Country Women’s Association involved; they can be a powerhouse.
Jon. I gotta tell you mate, I’m very tired of seeing words like ‘attitude’, ‘safety behaviour’, ‘saafety climate’…… and the worst of them, ‘safety culture’ used as opaque defences to doing very little for improvements. I understand your comment about the culture of ‘people of rural background’ but may I respectfully suggest that this is an over inclusion of ideas based on a particular (harmful) understanding of the notion of ‘safety culutre’.
There are a lot of good people thinking about all this. We need a number of unusual and practical ideas. I believe the industry and regulators (and the relevant ministers around the country) will listen.
Idea 1. QuadWatch.
Idea 2. QSI.
Idea 3. Quad Safety conference.
Idea 4. Increase the price of quads by (about 10%)…… but if the buyer actually goes through a formal and verifyable training course the distributor discounts that 10%.
Idea 5. A specialist organisation that’s critical of quad bike design (proneness to rollovers) is asked to come up with some practical design improvements in 6 months. That is, get the critical ‘big mouths’ (like me) to come up with real suggestions, not just arguments ‘what should be done’ or ‘what can’t be done’.
Idea 6. Persuade all manufacturers to understand what’s meant by ‘proneness to rollovers’ (real life, real people operating ‘their’ machines), and get them to state in all their literature and on their machines and in their training that ‘These machines are prone to rollover’. Their lawyers will not like this, but some of the manufacturers (to my surprise) are listening……..
“We’re no more juvenile or silly (thank you Jon and Dr Whom) than the average suburbanite.”
Well – Marian it’s worse than I thought then.
Yossi and Marian – I’d support built in safety with roll bars (tubular cabins or something) and gearing /clutches to prevent backwards roll overs etc. Do the majority have auto shut off if you leave the seat?
Yossi – the publication of some data would be a good beginning. How many quads or quad like vehicles in oz – what vintage are they – how many in agriculture – how many as recreation. How many injuries are to farm visitors. How many at night, weekday, weekend.
How many injuries/ mortality per 1,000 quads – what type of “accident ” is most common – roll over, crash, rear up – involvement of alcohol etc.
Might roll bars have prevented any of these injuries.
How does the injury rate compare to farm motor bikes, tractors, utes, saws etc.
Are there any countries with better safety records than us on these things. Are they more dangerous on hills or in mud or is speed a factor.
Several articles on my SafetyAtWorkBlog have links directly to the research data in Australia and New Zealand, and the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into farm safety – http://safetyatworkblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/australian-research-figures-into-quad-bike-deaths-and-injuries/ and http://safetyatworkblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/23/rops-and-quad-bikes-the-failure-of-atv-manufacturers-and-ohs-regulators/ and http://safetyatworkblog.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/when-atv-helmets-are-best-practice/
Yossi, love the idea of the QSI! Knowledge is power.
Please make sure some farmers (users) are at the quad safety conference, so the ideas are so practical they’ll be implemented. I’ve been disappointed that I’m the only farmer commenting on this post!
The 10% discount might also drive providers to make quad safety courses more readily available in rural areas.
1. Make it compulsory for bike dealerships to offer courses.
2. Include a mechanism on the bike that senses excessive speeds for a given terrain (rough or gradient) and limits the speed.
3. Provide a definitive answer on the value of rollbars (especially the hairpin-style Quadbar).
Dr Whom, here’s a quote regarding rollovers from a media report (see http://bit.ly/7AbfI6):
“There are 50 cases within the register that relate to the rollover of a quad bike; of these, two were front rollovers, eight were side rollovers, nine were rear rollovers and the remaining 31 were unspecified,” she said.
The majority don’t have auto shut-off if you leave the seat. This would be very impractical. The quads are popular partly because it’s so quick and easy to hop on and off them (they don’t fall over like a standard 2-wheeler). Today, putting up a temporary fence, I must have got on and off the bike 20 times in 25 minutes. If it turned off each time doing a common task like that, people would almost certainly sabotage or bypass the switch somehow. The best safety mechanisms don’t make it tough for people to do their jobs, they make it easier.
Roll bars are very controversial. Some think they’re great, some say they unbalance the bike making it more prone to rollovers and others think the rollbar just presents another crush hazard. I don’t know what to think.
marian – thanks for those stats . Though with 60% unspecified its a bit hard to draw conclusions.
I’m guessing its possibly a bit like road accidents, some idiots, a lot speed and some alcohol or an unfortunate combination of the above. Some – possibly design. Its a bit hard to protect idiots – although some design can. We still get too many deaths and injuries from idiots hooning around with people in the back of utes and head on collisions between trail bikes mucking around at speed.
marian – when i said auto shut off i meant something like a deadman switch that threw the clutch and put on handbrake but left engine running – then it would actually help you jumping on and off to move an electric fence or irrigation pipes.
My problem is that without a decent analysis of contributing factors to deaths and injury then any education runs the danger of being taxpayers subsidised warm fuzzy faffing around.
Many apologies if I have insulted someone. However, in my, albeit limited experience, this seems to be the culture of the farmer. I used the term rural, which was really something I used with some artistic licence, but really I have only experienced what I would consider accepted stupidity in a farming environment. This does not mean farmers are stupid. Rather what I meant was that there seems to be things which are acceptable for probably cultural reasons but which objectively are simply dangerous, particularly when children are concerned. It was in fact a nurse which couldn’t see anything wrong with letting these kids drive the 4WD which led me to the opinion that the problem is more general.
From an american website:
• An estimated 300 children die each year in farming accidents
• Farm children are twice as likely to die from an accident than their urban counterparts
• An estimated 30,000 children under 20 years of age are injured each year in farming accidents
• If children who visit or work on non-family farms are added the total is estimated to be close to
• Nearly 950 farm children suffer some type of permanent disability because of farm accidents an-
• Approximately 90% of the fatalities and injuries occur to male children
• Children under the age of 16 comprise 20% of all farm fatalities
So I believe that children and farms do not mix.
very sad recent news:
Medics warn of risks after Quorrobolong quad bike death, BY JACQUI JONES AND TIM CONNELL, 04 Jan, 2010 04:00 AM
THE death of a man crushed by his quad bike at Quorrobolong following a string of similar accidents has heightened doctors’ concerns about the vehicles’ safety.
The 42-year-old died on Saturday, a day after a man, 54, thrown from a quad near Wingen suffered face and chest wounds.
A 28-year-old man broke his arm in another quad accident near Williamtown on New Year’s Eve.
The latest crash happened about 10.45pm at the Mayumarri property off Coney Creek Lane.
The vehicle was found rolled, and the man crushed underneath. He had died when police and paramedics arrived.
Central Hunter Police Inspector Joanne Schultz said yesterday there appeared to be no suspicious circumstances, but alcohol was thought to be a factor.
It is believed the man had been drinking before riding the all-terrain vehicle.
John Hunter Hospital emergency staff specialist Dr Mark Lee called quads more dangerous than motorbikes.
PS: Its shocking to see the myriad of results when “quad bike death” is typed into Google. A quick scan of 2 or 3 pages of results turns up a lot of UK news items and sadly kids killed. An unscientific scan seems to bring up recreational use rather than work related deaths.
And sadly tends to re-enforce Jon Hunt’s points.
Thanks for the apology, Jon. Yes, your comments were insulting and don’t do anything to encourage farmers (the users who get killed) to participate in finding solutions, that’s for sure.
Farms are dangerous places for children. I think this is mostly because children on farms generally do more. It’s far harder to get seriously injured while sitting in front of a Playstation than it is riding a horse. I know which of these two activities I’d rather my daughter was enjoying.
Rather than indulging in pointless and largely uninformed farmer-bashing, our collective energy is surely better spent investigating the real causes and encouraging the development of practical resources that will make a real difference.