Tony Lower, Director of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety within the Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney, writes….
Its been just on seven months since my first blog regarding quad bikes and the perils of their design. Since that posting there have been a further 11 quad bike deaths in Australia, taking the total to 16 for this year.
Thus far in 2011, quad bikes are the leading cause of death on Australian farms – outnumbering tractor fatalities at a rate of 2:1. In addition, there will have been many serious and life-long debilitating spinal and head injuries.
In that initial posting I also highlighted the similarities between the quad bike industry in Australia represented by the Federated Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) and the tobacco and asbestos industries. Regrettably, this comparison has only further strengthened in recent times.
The development of the Trans-Tasman Quad Bike Strategy has led a comprehensive shift in the perceptions of those close to the issue. The Strategy supports (but does not require) retrospective fitting of devices designed to reduce the risk to riders from entrapment beneath an overturned vehicle and requires some specific criteria to be met. http://hwsa.org.au/activities/activities-projects_and_current_campaigns.aspx
Interestingly, NSW Farmers Association has gone one step further by calling for mandatory fitting of crush protection devices. It is indeed rare for farmer organisations to call for more regulation in any area, but clearly the leadership of NSW Farmers recognise the risks to their members and the broader farming community from not adopting these devices.
The FCAI and quad bike manufacturers do not accept this part of the strategy and continue to actively peddle information that is of questionable quality and relevance. It appears that they certainly cannot mount a defence based on the evidence (as their own evidence actually indicates a nett benefit), so the next best thing is for them to adopt a tobacco-esque approach and seek to ensure that “doubt is their product”. And this is exactly the basis of the current extensive advertising campaign that they are running in the rural print media.
A question that I receive every time this issue is raised is just why are the manufacturer’s so opposed to these crush protection devices? Is it because fitting such a device is not “sexy” and confirms the findings of the Victorian coroner that these vehicles are “prone to rollover”? Maybe. Is it because they have had information for many years that illustrates these devices are beneficial – yet they have failed to accurately relay this to their own retailers and the general public? Maybe. Is it because they are afraid of setting a legal precedent that will impact on their bottom line? Maybe. The one thing that is sure is that they are not acting in the best interest of those that ride these vehicles.
It is telling that the Work Health Authorities across all states and territories appear simply fed up with the antics of the FCAI and manufacturers. The strong position they have taken through the HWSA Strategy to protect riders clearly indicates this. Indeed, within the Strategy it is noted that…
“the ongoing fatality and serious injury rates and the need to support the farming community in controlling the risk of entrapment beneath an overturned vehicle, WHS Regulators consider it necessary to maintain this position. Other considerations in this decision were: Coroners’ inquest findings and recommendations, the accuracy of the current simulation model used by manufacturers in considering asphyxiation risks of riders beneath overturned vehicles, and lack of visible progress of manufacturers in developing their own engineering solutions to reduce asphyxiation risks.”
This would not be an issue if the outcomes were more trivial, rather, we are literally talking life and death situations here. In a recent NSW Industrial Court case in which a farm business was fined $80,000 for failure of a staff member to wear a helmet in a fatal quad bike rollover, the expert witness also noted that the use of a helmet and the fitting of a ROPS would have most likely reduced the severity of the injuries sustained by the deceased to non fatal.
This work will have international ramifications, with 500-800+ deaths each year in the US alone and there is no doubt that the quad bike manufacturers will have a gaggle of lawyers trying to determine every loop-hole that they can, to overcome the growing chorus of demands for positive action to be taken.
Nonetheless, it is an appalling indictment on the FCAI and quad bike manufacturers that they continue to roll out information to their own retailers and the general public that simply does not reflect even their own research findings (even though that is also under considerable speculation as to its validity).
Its time for the manufacturers to fall on their sword, stop the nonsense and get on with making quad bikes safer vehicles for their customers. Currently the manufacturers are treating their own retailers and the general public who purchase these vehicles as “mugs”. Failure by the FCAI and quad manufacturers to take immediate positive action will simply mean more people needlessly die and are seriously injured. Then the lawyers really will have more work.
Further accurate information on quad bike safety can be obtained from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (02 6752 8210) or by visiting the website www.aghealth.org.au