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Safety concerns raised about quad bikes

 

 

It’s time for a conversation about quad bikes, says Dr Yossi Berger, the National OHS Co-ordinator for the Australian Workers Union (and an occasional Croakey correspondent).

He says that so many people are being killed and injured that there may be a need to rethink some issues around design and workplace safety.

He writes:

 

 

 

 

“There have been hundreds of fatalities around the world associated with some of these machines. In Australia there are about 12 fatalities per year and it’s reported  that even generally-safe and cautious people have also been injured and killed by quad rollovers.

Quad bike manufacturers around the world are well aware of these repeated tragedies.  They note the lack of adequate training by operators but are not as sympathetic to a focus on quad design or intrinsic rider protection.  Helmets, training, regulator inspections and support seem more attractive to them.

I  believe an open discussion about safety with quads must include quad design and reported proness to rollover.  Do the manufacturers need to consider a totally new design for some of their machines?   Are some of these machines the Pinto of agriculture, or is this unfair both to Ford and quad manufacturers?

 

ATV or Quad?

There are many types of quads.  They used to be called ATVs, All Terrain Vehicles. Too many deaths later and after a Victorian coroner’s comments (at an inquest over a number of quad-related fatalities) it’s now argued that they are not suited for all terrains (meaning, the lay of the land, not just type of surface), particularly with certain accessories, and the manufacturers have been warning for years against untrained use on difficult terrain.

Talk to some quad users and you hear that, “They are one of the most useful tools I have on the farm, hugely helpful to workers”.  But it’s not unusual to hear – from the same person and almost in the same breath – that they are ‘prone to roll-over’. It’s in these roll-overs that most injuries and crush-related fatalities occur.  You also hear that, “These machines are killers”.

Can all these statements be true at the same time? And what do they indicate?

The AWU’s position is that without formal, comprehensive and practical training in real work situations no worker should use them under any circumstances; they can become a threat to life otherwise.

Any training ought to provide practical skills, and then these must be applied and supervised at the workplace itself.  Without such local adaptation the operator is really in a probationary learner stage.  In the meantime OHS regulators may need to consider designating these machines as of high risk like forklifts.

 

Tendencies and Proneness

Quads generate the misleading and dangerous impression that little or no skill is required to operate them.  These two issues combined, matters of stability and this impression of ‘easy to ride’, are the key issues to improve safety.

Great care and special skills are required to ride quads. Without such constantly applied skills such a machine-and-operator (as an active unit) seems prone to roll over, particularly on hilly or unpredictable terrain.  At times an insignificant bump in high grass on hilly terrain is enough to roll the machine.

The quad itself, standing idle in the shed, cannot be accurately described as ‘prone’ to anything. But this is not a case of a sculpture exhibit ‘found’ in a gallery.   The moment it’s being used the active combination of rider-and-machine (R&M) creates capacities, limitations and risks; some will be accentuated, some will be controlled.

It’s reported that the likelihood of a fatal outcome is related to opertaor action and quad  rollover.  However, any typical or repeated consequence of this ‘unit’ – of R&M – can be referred to as a ‘proneness’, a tendency for better or worse  e.g. ‘they tend to be very useful’.  It seems  that some of these quads are indeed dangerous and prone to rollover.

Comments 11

  1. Kevin Jones says:

    Yossi indicates that there is likely to be a fundamental design flaw on quad-bikes that are used as work vehicles. Most vehicles and equipment designs are regularly reviewed in light of the uses that drivers put them to but, seemingly, not quad-bikes.

    There is a robust debate occurring between the manufacturers of the bikes and, at least, one provider of a roll over protective structure (ROPS) that is reflected in several posts and comments on the topic at the SafetyAtWorkBlog.

    Apparently a meeting has been scheduled between these two parties to compare scientific evidence on quad bike safety. Whether the OHS regulators are involved is unclear.

    One point that a ROPS provider made that I think is important in this debate is that the quad bikes should not be referred to as ATV’s (All Terrain Vehicles) because the rate of injuries, deaths, flips and rollovers clear show the folly of such a term.

  2. Marian Macdonald says:

    As a dairy farmer with two quad bikes, I agree with Yossi’s observation that these are indispensible tools that tend to be taken for granted. Getting people to wear helmets on them is almost impossible and the reality is that when I’m not there, they won’t be worn. Nor is constant supervision on a 500-acre farm feasible.

    On our flat to gently undulating farm, we have instead set a 10km/hr speed limit for those who won’t wear helmets. This seems well accepted and the side benefit is that it’s also almost impossible to flip a quad bike on our terrain at that speed. Of course, a helmet isn’t going to prevent horrible crush injuries on any part of your body other than your head if one of these heavy machines rolls onto you!

    WorkSafe Vic tells me that installing a ROPS would be a backward step because it would make the bike more likely to roll.

    Training options are limited, too. The only training (other than that offered by adventure tour operators) I can find in Victoria is about 5 hours away in Ballarat. Will be interesting to see if I can get training here in Gippsland somehow.

    I think that rather than turning the blowtorch on farmers, who have few real options to deal with this issue successfully, we need pressure manufacturers to design-in safety.

  3. David Robertson says:

    Whilst QB Industries (the manufacturer of the ROPS mentioned above) considers training an essential element of quad bike safety, we believe that training still has a couple of fundamental flaws peculiar to the use of quad bikes.
    Firstly, as Dr Dave Moore (thesis on quad bike injuries) points out, when quad bikes are used on farms, the actual riding of the quad bike is the secondary task, the actual task being performed may be checking livestock, fences, water spraying etc, Training can’t ensure concentration is maintained on the secondary (often one of multiple) task(s).
    Secondly, many quad bike accidents and fatalities happen on relatively flat ground. It is a misconception to suggest that sloping country is the main risk associated with roll overs on these unstable machines. Skill levels may be improved for operation on sloping ground through training, however as pointed out above, “even generally-safe and cautious people have also been injured and killed by quad rollovers”, often on flat ground.
    Thirdly farm quads are regularly used by a variety of people, including family friends and casual staff. Even if, as has been suggested by OHS authorities, you trained the purchaser of the quad bike; the other potential operators are only going to receive second hand (filtered) information and they will not reach the same level of skill and understanding that the purchaser attains.

  4. David Robertson says:

    Marian, Your comments regarding helmets and training are so pertinent. However Worksafe Victoria have somewhat mislead you regarding ROPS on Quadbikes. There are some proposed designs that may have some effect on the centre of gravity of a quadbike, however our design has been tested and does not have any detrimental effect on vehicle stability. What the Quadbar does, is dramatically alter the dynamics of a quadbike overturn, i.e reduces the likelihood of a full rollover, limits the bikes ability to pin a operator beneath an overturned vehicle and provides a space between the ground and the bike if the vehicle does complete a rollover. Are you able to email me details on who in Worksafe Victoria told you ROPS were a backward step? My email is dave@quadbar.com.au

  5. John Lambert says:

    Personally I’m very disappointed/ appalled by Honda’s behaviour on this matter, including them taking legal action to try and have the Coroner barred from investigating ATV/ Quad bike safety (Honda lost), and the fact that I approached Honda with a design for a roll cage that would overcome all the professed problems with rollovers and Honda could not have cared less (note I’m not saying my concept was the way to go – just that Honda was disinterested).

    I have reviewed the very large research project on rollover frames for quads and found that:
    1. The computer simulations shown in the video defy physics – that is the vehicle dynamics are wrong, which then casts doubt on the whole project because it determined that there would be significant injuries from contact with the roll cage as the quad with roll cage rolled down a slope; and
    2. The roll cage modelled was a rigid steel roll cage – no consideration was given to a deforming model made of for example high density plastic.

    Quad bikes are, or are becoming as much a problem as tractors or forklifts – and they deserve attention to reduce trauma and death.

    It’s time Honda decided to become a responsible citizen and put their efforts into developing safer quad designs including roll cages or similar! I note that Polaris, John Deere, Kubota and others already supply suitable utility vehicles for industry with roll protection, or roll protection as an option.

    Maybe the best way for Worksafe and other Workcover authorities to turn the market around is to send out an alert that any quad bike or similar utility vehicle design WITHOUT roll protection will be considered as an unsafe piece of equipment in respect of workplace use and prima facie evidence that an employer or workplace manager has been negligent in supplying a safe place of work.

  6. Peter says:

    It is true that quad bikes can be dangerous and nobody should be riding them without the correct safety gear. Sadly many people do however, and accidents do happen as a result.
    http://www.secondhandatvs.com

  7. Sarah Zito says:

    This is a real problem for farmers and their families. There is a new alternative product I’ve seen, which has recently launched in Australia. We’re still waiting to test drive one however they look great for farmers and the safety of these vehicles is apparently second to none. Check them out for yourselves at: http://truebluetomcar.com.au/

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