WorkSafe Vic to get tough on quad bikes

It sounded like a threat from WorkSafe.

“I think you’ll see us getting quite radical in the new year….  So prosecuting farmers has not been an area that we’ve particularly been in but we think we may need to be in that space.”
– Marnie Williams,
Executive Director, Health and Safety at WorkSafe – Victoria

That was the response to questions from Kevin Jones, the author of Australia’s top independent OHS blog, Safety At Work, about how the regulator would attack Victoria’s stubbornly high number of quadbike-related deaths.

Ms Williams also told Safety At Work that WorkSafe plans to send inspectors to 25 per cent more farms next year. One in 10 can now expect a knock at the door.

So, what exactly does WorkSafe have in mind for Victorian dairy farms? Milk Maid Marian invited Marnie Williams to write a guest post and I am very grateful for her explanation. Thank you, Marnie.

Why WorkSafe is getting tougher on quadbike safety – and how you can help


Marnie Williams, executive director of Health and Safety at WorkSafe Victoria

Bad news arrives by text message at WorkSafe.

Usually, the fact that the phone of everyone around me beeps simultaneously provides a few seconds of warning, but this never quite prepares me for the details on the screen.

Inevitably the message is a Code Yellow, notification to senior WorkSafe staff that someone has been seriously injured, or worse, killed, at a workplace in Victoria.

As WorkSafe’s inspectors and investigators swing into action, my mind goes to the scene and to the thought of families being given the heartbreaking news that something has happened to someone they love.

Sadly – and all too often – these families are on farms, perhaps just a few hundred metres from where the incident has occurred.

And frustratingly for everyone at WorkSafe, too many Code Yellows contain the words “quad bike”.

Make no mistake, quad bikes are the most dangerous piece of machinery on Australian farms.  SafeWork Australia data shows that 115 people have died as a result of quad bike incidents in Australia since 2011, 24 of these in Victoria alone.  Even more tragically, some were young children.  Not all of these people were using a quad bike for work at the time of their incident, but we know from our own research that many of the circumstances remain stubbornly the same.

Helmets not worn, operator protection devices (OPDs) not installed, quad bikes poorly maintained, being used to perform tasks they weren’t designed for or travelling over ground they were not built for.  Operators not trained to ride them and children, physically incapable of handling such machines safely, allowed to ride them.

Despite the media focus, the academic studies, the recommendations of numerous coronial inquests and the pleas from medical professionals who see the trauma caused by quad bike accidents first-hand, the deaths have kept coming.

The reluctance of quad bike owners to fit OPDs, take up training and wear helmets has been of particular frustration to WorkSafe.  Considering that more than half of the quad bike deaths recorded by Safe Work Australia involved a rollover incident, and that quad bikes often weigh 300-350kg, it confounds us.

That is why, early last year WorkSafe decided that enough was enough.  It decided to put OPDs on the list of risk control measures formally recognised for quad bikes (helmets were already there).  This means that if a quad bike is being used in a workplace – and there is a risk of rollover – the employer must consider fitting the bike with an OPD to eliminate or reduce the risk so far is reasonably practicable.

Since that time we have been working hard to educate the farm community about the safety benefits of an OPD.  Together with the State Government, we have implemented a $6 million rebate scheme – administered by the VFF – to help farmers pay to fit OPDs on existing quad bikes, or to help pay for the purchase of safer side-by-side vehicles.

We have also been driving home the message to Victorian farm owners that enforcement activity will soon begin.

This means that when WorkSafe inspectors see a quad bike that is at risk of rolling over due to the task it is performing or the terrain it is being operated on, they won’t be waiting for an incident to occur. An improvement notice will be issued on the spot, requiring the employer to fit an OPD or remove the bike from the risky environment.


Ignoring a WorkSafe improvement notice may lead to charges for breaching the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In cases where a quad bike without an OPD has rolled over and caused death or injury, the owner can expect to be prosecuted through the courts.

These are not measures WorkSafe takes lightly, but the number of quad bike deaths and serious injuries demands action.

However, WorkSafe’s new approach on OPDs doesn’t mean that other quad bike safety measures can be ignored.

Employers need to make sure that anyone operating a quad bike wears a helmet and is properly trained to ride.

The bike needs to be maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions and only used for the purpose for which it was designed.

Passengers are a no go – this can upset the balance of the bike – and children under the age of 16 should never operate an adult-size quad bike.

So if you see your neighbour riding across a steep hill on a quad bike that has no OPD, or riding down to get the cows in thongs, a tank top and no helmet, or letting their 10-year-old who can barely reach the brakes ride the bike down the paddock, call it out.

Ask them why they haven’t taken up the rebate for OPDs, or whether they have heard the stories about kids who have been crushed under a quad bike, or suffered a serious injury after it has rolled.

That one moment of awkward conversation for you may mean one less heartbreak for someone you know, and one less Code Yellow for us to dread.

# Marnie Williams is the executive director of Health Safety at WorkSafe Victoria

NOTE: This post was edited on October 26 at the request of WorkSafe Victoria. A paragraph which initially read: “This means that if a quad bike is being used in a workplace – and there is a risk of rollover – the employer must fit the bike with an OPD” has been updated with: “This means that if a quad bike is being used in a workplace – and there is a risk of rollover – the employer must consider fitting the bike with an OPD to eliminate or reduce the risk so far is reasonably practicable.”

21 thoughts on “WorkSafe Vic to get tough on quad bikes

  1. Nanny state in progress.
    First point of call is the definition.
    ATV All Terrain Vehicle they’re a vehicle not a bike and can be registered and operated with a car license.
    Granted maintenance is often an issue, why? Quite simply poor farm gate prices often means that repairs or replacement are put off due to lack of money.
    The amount of time that many farm operators use them puts them into a similar category as commercial drivers such as taxi drivers so statistically the risks are higher.
    A large proportion of the accidents involve the young often in leisure related activities rather than work. Yes young people do have to help out on farms for a variety of reasons and should be monitored by parents. Unfortunately the elderly also appear in the statistics as they also find operation physically difficult.
    As we saw with the early introduction of ROPS on tractors unless the operator is either secured or protected from other parts of the machine more problems arise.

  2. Why does it have to be a rebate? Farmers may not have the money up front since the dairy crisis. How about vouchers to the sellers instead?

    As a health professional previously, I can say with certainty that anything that protects workers from injury is a good thing . I’ve seen some shockers. Put safety first, folks.

  3. I recently did a Dairy funded safety day. ATV’s are the headline act, with the huge US market having 1000 people killed each year by ATV’s, but there are statistics to show that the number of farm deaths in Australia have dropped since ROPS were mandatory on tractors.
    What was highlighted was the massive reluctance from the manufacturers of ATV’s to have or allow dealers to install OPD’s on ATV’s and quoting “Installation of an OPD on an ATV will void the warranty”!!
    I am not a fan of ATV’s and have bought a SxS instead. I have tipped ATV’s over and I have some steep ground and each time I was going slow on fairly level ground, but my daughter put ours in a barb wire fence and that was enough. I do not understand why a manufacturer would put an 800cc EFI engine between your legs on 4 wheels, put a seat on top, no protection and say its all good! Might as well put a V8 in a shopping trolley.
    Places like WorksafeVic and the like should be coming down harder on the manufacturers not the farmers, we are only buying a product that should be fit for purpose from the store. We don’t buy a car and then install airbags etc afterwards for added safety.
    But also when a farmer buys an ATV for herding dairy cattle, is anything larger than 400cc even necessary? Probably for most 250cc would do

  4. Sadly another death this week
    The man, in his 60s, was herding sheep in a laneway on his mixed farm at Hesket, near Romsey, when the quad bike he was riding flipped

  5. Hi Marian and Marnie.
    Great article. Quad bikes are the biggest killer machine on farms. But that does not mean deaths are common. The rate is around 1 death per 14,000 quads per annum (compared to about the same rate for road vehicles). However thta death rate could be reduced by up to 60% to up to 1 per 35,000 by fitting an OPD. And when you changeover the quad you can just move the OPD. The best OPD is the Quadbar – cheapest, lightest so least impact on rollovers, rear cargo rack still fully useable, and virtually never contributes to a rider injury.

  6. Nigel
    The reason for the term quad bikes is because the Victorian Coroner recommended that All Terrain Vehicle was inappropriate because they obviously have limits and so they should be referred to as quad bikes. And note that most deaths occur with normal primary producer responsible use and not at anything like maximum speeds.

    • So for the hill country of south Gippsland what exactly is steep terrain. There needs to be a hell of a lot more discussion and understanding before this gets in-forced from and with a whole of industry level . We have To get some perspective and better understanding other wise the industry will shut down with regard to confusing and unworkable legislation unless we put our farms in factories that have defined and controllable risks that are repeatable to those watching over us . So how and who is going to define these so called dangerous no go zones on a vast majority of hill farms in Victoria and what is to become of this productive land that we can no longer access and that is just one point that needs addressing before the sledge hammers start coming and crashing down

      • Bernhard. Based on those manufacturers who recommend maximum slopes for their quad bikes, the maximum slope that should be driven on is 20 degrees to 25 degrees (35% to 45% slope). To check the slope you really need to purchase a digital electronic level – buy a short unit and tape it to a long straight piece of timber or RHS steel section.

    • Yet Vic Roads deem them a special vehicle.
      Any machine has limits and it’s up to the operator to recognise those. The average speed on most farm ATV’s is actually quite slow when you divide the hours into the klm”s travelled.
      Recreational use is a large contributor to statistics particularly on lifestyle/farms..

      • NZ undertook research on more than 30 farms where they fitted data packs that recorded all information on movements on farms including speeds. Showed that typical maximum speeds were in range 20-30 kph, with occasional maximum speeds of up to ~50 kph on flat tracks. And data shows recreational use is a significant but not large contributor to deaths.

      • Nigel – your data is meaningless simply because when a quad is switched on and stopped the hours will continue to increase with NO travel. The NZ report by MILOSAVLJEVIC and others showed the mean daily speed was 11.4 kph – that is the mean daily speed while the quad bike was moving – with a range from 3.4 kph to 24.5 kph. My previous figures related to maximum observed speeds, a very different speed observation.

        • John my comment is not meaningless, rather you went onto maximum speeds etc.
          Yes maximum speeds are high on many atv’s but as mentioned on a real life dairy farm much of it is low speed following cows, irrigating, spot spraying, winding up strip fences etc.

          • Nigel – you said your calculation was based on vehicle hours and odometer, where these are available. My comment was that the calculation was meaningless if you wanted to know about travel speeds because of the times when the quad is stopped but engine running. NZ data covers a whole range of properties – mixed livestock, dairy, beef, sheep.

      • As for maximum possible speeds of quad bikes – depends on what you chose ro accept are quad bikes but can be as high as 80 – 110 kph. Yet in industry it is common to limit top speeds of mobile plant working close to people like forklifts to 12 kph or less. On sits where the same forklifts have to travel significant distances away from people they may have a contolled second maximum speed of 20 kph – 30 kph.

      • You can make it anything you want but we have ours at a top speed of 40kph as we sometimes need to go on the road.

        • Thanks Deborah. A speed of 40 kph on a road represents significant risk. I’m sure you have checked with the manufacturer about the risks. And hopefully you have a CPD fitted.
          Most manuals include statements like “Operating on Pavement – Operating an ATV on paved surfaces (including sidewalks, paths, parking lots and driveways) may adversely affect the handling of the ATV and could result in loss of control and accident or overturn. Avoid operating the ATV on pavement. ATV tires are designed for off-road use. If it’s unavoidable, travel slowly and avoid sudden turns or stops.”
          And “Operating on Public Roads – Operating this ATV on public streets, roads or highways could result in a collision with another vehicle. Never operate the ATV on any public street, road or highway, including dirt and gravel roads. In many states it’s unlawful to operate ATVs on public streets, roads and

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