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

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.

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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
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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.”

Tough gear for a tough gig: quad bike safety gets serious

QuadTipped

Too many of us had been dying so, at last, something had to be done.

“…if a duty holder (normally an employer) wants to use a quad bike in the workplace – and there is a risk of rollover – WorkSafe will require a suitably designed and tested operator protective device (OPD) to be fitted.”
– WorkSafe Victoria, March 1, 2016

Finally, WorkSafe Victoria has made an unequivocal statement about quad rollovers and what we must do to reduce the risk of getting squashed to death by 300kg of upturned bike. I urge you to click on the link and read it.

Essentially, it means you need to fit something like the Quadbar on the back of our bikes. Such crush protection devices are not “mandatory” but (and it’s a BIG but), continues the WorkSafe Victoria statement:

“If the quad bike is at risk of rollover, and the risk is not eliminated or appropriately controlled, then a WorkSafe inspector may issue the duty holder (often the employer) with an improvement notice which will require them to eliminate or control the risk. The inspector will return to the workplace at a later date to confirm that the requirements of the notice have been complied with.”

“Non-compliance with an improvement notice could lead to an investigation by WorkSafe and ultimately prosecution through the Courts.”

You’d be surprised how reticent OHS regulators are to act. Before they make public statements about the need for new safety measures they need to see dead bodies. In fact, quite a few. Once, a regulatory staffer once explained to me a “pile of dead bodies on the concrete” was pretty much necessary. So this is a big deal.

Tragically, the latest pile is farmers under quad bikes.

The biggest problem with quad bikes is that they look safer than they are. People think that if you roll a well maintained quad, it was probably just because you’re a reckless idiot in need of training or an injection of common sense up the jacksy.

The reality is that you only need to drop a wheel into a new wombat hole while rounding up in the dark. Or, you could just be human and make a human error, like Wayne did last week.

QuadTipped

As you can see, the bike was one jiggle of the accelerator from rolling. He’d been reversing while talking to someone else and forgotten about the little trough in the crush paddock. In the blink of an eye, the four wheeler simply climbed up the concrete.

Brain-fade, yes. Reckless idiot, no.

We all have brain fades from time to time, so let’s accept they’re going to happen and protect ourselves as best we can. That’s why cars have seat belts. And, hell, wombats don’t follow the rules.

What do we do on our farm to make quads safer, you ask?

  • We start at the beginning. If you come to work for us, we’ll sit you down to watch the FCAI’s ATV Safety video and discuss the hazards on our farm. Next, we show you all the controls on our bikes if you haven’t ridden our model before. Then, we put your skills to the test on the farm. Finally, we have a questionnaire based on a WorkSafe checklist to check you’ve understood it all.
  • There are signed speed limits and people are encouraged to take their time.
  • Wearing a helmet (at least equestrian standard) is non-negotiable.
  • Bikes are well maintained.
  • The kids ride in a UTV (side by side) rather than on the quads.
  • The bikes are fitted with Quadbars.

Having fitted Quadbars to our two bikes in 2011, I can vouch for them. They’re light, foolproof to fit and they are a darn sight smaller than the elephantine footprint of an upturned quad. Just as ROPS saved the lives of farmers on tractors, crush protection devices on quads will spare farming families unnecessary tragedy. Their time has come.

Tough gear for a tough gig.

Quadbar in action on the farm

Newly installed Quadbar in action on the farm back in 2011

How to get farmers wearing helmets on quad bikes

With my hair plastered to my head with sweat and feeling woozy, I conceded defeat. I’d been rounding up in 30 degree heat on a quad bike with a road bike helmet on and just couldn’t do it. At 2 km/hr behind 250 cows, each literally giving off the same amount of heat as a 1500 watt hair dryer, sitting astride a hot engine, the heat got to me and I was not far from passing out.

Road bike helmets are designed for use on bitumen at high speed and have no effective ventilation at speeds of one to three kilometres per hour. Having one strapped on in this type of environment could be lethal.

Why had I been so stupid, you ask? Because I was trying to do what the regulators would have me do and, as an employer, insist everyone else does it too. And yet I’m in The Weekly Times today saying we all wear helmets here; I won’t let our kids on quads; and that we have Quadbars on our bikes.

What the story doesn’t explain is that I won’t wear a road bike helmet. This seems to be something of a taboo and sadly, this means many farmers ride quad bikes without a helmet at all and simply hope nobody gets hurt.

This situation has arisen because:

–     Quad bike manuals stipulate the wearing of a road bike helmet that meets Australian Standard AS1618

-`    An Australian Standards committee dominated by helmet manufacturers refused to ratify a New Zealand off-road quad bike helmet standard.

I would never argue that riding quad bikes on farm – even at slow speed – without a helmet should be permitted but far lighter helmets are legal in much more hazardous circumstances.

Thousands ride pushbikes down Melbourne’s busiest thoroughfares at 40 kilometres an hour alongside semi-trailers wearing very light, yet legal, helmets. Thousands more ride horses equally as fast wearing cool helmets strong enough to withstand a collision with horse hoofs and a fall onto a hard surface at speeds of up to 55km/hr.

And that’s been our solution: we’ve chosen a light, really well ventilated equestrian helmet. Everyone here wears them without complaint whatever the weather, all of the time.

While many WorkSafe inspectors appreciate the hazards created by wearing road bike helmets for low-speed agricultural use, they are hamstrung by the absence of a specific standard. A new Australian Standard seems destined to be stymied by cost and disregard of the realities by those who work in air-conditioned offices rather than hot paddocks.

 

Tragic irony

I cannot imagine finding a child killed on the farm yet this is perhaps Australia’s most dangerous backyard. One of the things we do to keep Zoe and Alex safe is to keep them off quad bikes.

According to Safety Around Farms:

“ATVs are the most common cause of death for children 5-14 yrs on farms. Between 2001-2004, 12 children died on ATV’s in Australia and many more were hospitalised with serious injuries, 50% of these children were visitors to farms. (National Farm Injury Data Centre, 2007)”

That’s why I have a Bobcat UTV. Problem is, it’s only a two-seater and Alex is getting to the stage where he likes to stand in his child carrier and give me loving kisses on the face while I am driving. Hardly ideal.

I’m in the process of upgrading to a three-seater so little man can be strapped in more safely beside me rather than on me. Among the options is the Polaris Ranger Diesel and here’s the promo for it:

Buy this big machine to keep your kids safe and we’ll give you a small machine to keep your kids #%@

Do you see the irony of it? I rang Polaris HQ to see if I could get more family-friendly Ranger accessories – like a roof and windscreen – instead of the dangerous machine for little children. No, certainly not.

I asked the marketing manager a raft of quite pointed questions about the safety of the little machine. He couldn’t answer them. It seems certain he hadn’t read this from the Canadian Paediatric Society:

“While industry guidelines suggest that children under 16 years of age should only operate youthsized models, these vehicles are still heavy and can travel at significant speeds. Also, a higher centre of gravity contributes to instability, making ATVs prone to flips or rollovers.”

“Currently,there is little evidence to suggest that smaller youth models are safer when used by children. US CPSC injury data from 2001 showed that the risk of injury per number of driving hours for an operator under the age of 16 is reduced by only 18% when driving a youth-model ATV with an engine size of 200 cc.

“In addition, the level of risk for a child or adolescent operating a youth-model ATV is still almost twice as high as for an adult on a larger machine; the risk of injury to a youth using a smaller machine is also five times higher than the risk to an adult on a machine of the same size.”

In other words, don’t think your child is safe on a quad bike of any size.

The Polaris kids’ quad may be free but it could be Aussie kids who pay the ultimate price for this corporation’s cynical grab for market share.

Quad bike manufacturers look like Big Tobacco

Quadbar

Crush protection devices will save farmers' lives

Just like Big Tobacco before it, the quad bike industry has been adamant its machinery is not responsible for the deaths of Australian farmers – rather that they got themselves killed.

The Weekly Times and SafetyOzBlog have reported the gyrations of the manufacturers and their representatives, the FCAI, which even included forcing some sponsored riders to remove crush protection devices. They claimed that the only answer was more rider education and that rider error was almost invariably the cause of the 23 deaths on farm ATVs in 2011 so far.

I thought it was all over bar the shouting match when The Weekly Times reported that the FCAI had dropped its opposition to Australia’s crush protection device, the Quadbar. Then I heard that at least one manufacturer has advised its dealers that its position is unchanged.

Now, the SafetyOzBlog carries this media release from the respected and independent Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety tearing strips off the FCAI for failing to correct what the ACCC described as misleading and deceptive conduct.

“Embarrassing or not, the families of those people killed and permanently injured in such rollover events have a right to know why the FCAI, as suggested by the ACCC, has not only misrepresented the evidence but why they have not addressed this issue in a timely manner. The inaction and questionable approach of both the FCAI and manufacturers is showing complete disregard for the safety of their customers.”

People on our farms are dying. No matter who is responsible for the rollovers, the Quadbar is estimated to protect between one in four and one in three people. It’s worth it.

For more information on quad bike safety, call the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (02 6752 8210) or visiting the website at www.aghealth.org.au

Quad bike politics put farmer safety at risk

Right now, there’s an unseemly squabble going on about the safety of quad bikes or ATVs. Everyone agrees that too many people are being injured and killed using these indispensable farm tools, so a working group was formed to find the answers. Disappointingly, the working group is so badly fractured, it’s better described as a “non-working group” marred by walkouts.

The main source of disagreement seems to be over anti-crush devices or rollover protection systems (ROPS). Unionist Yossi Berger is a strong advocate of the anti-crush devices. The representatives of the quad bike manufacturers contend the anti-crush devices may bring new hazards and advocate better rider training.

Both sides point to different research outcomes and claim the other sides’ research is flawed. I’m incredibly disappointed with this bickering. The issue is too important and the confusion it causes paralyses farmers from taking action.

The way I see it is this:

First, if you ride a quad bike in a dangerous fashion, no amount of protective equipment will prevent you being hurt. Like cars, trucks and forklifts, quad bikes are powerful, heavy vehicles that need to be treated with respect. For this reason, training and rider behaviour is undeniably an important part of quad safety. When someone comes to work at our farm, they must undergo an hour-long induction on safe quad bike riding and operation.

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Second, even if you are a careful rider, there will be times you’ll make a silly mistake (all humans do!) or you’ll encounter an unexpected hazard. For this reason, we need to make sure the quad bike is well maintained, designed to be as safe as practicable and that we use appropriate safety gear.

The word “appropriate” is key here, too. Even the most impressive safety equipment is useless if it impedes the user to the point where they bypass or sabotage it. That’s why seatbelts on a farm quad would not add to safety – nobody would use them because we get on and off frequently and because you need to move your body with the bike (aka “dynamic riding”). The implication of no seatbelts is that any large ROPS structure would certainly present new hazards. Flipped off the bike, you could well be crushed by its structure. This is one of the arguments maintained by the bike manufacturers, who also say that ROPS could interfere with the balance and handling of bikes.

The good news is that an Australian company has designed an anti-crush device that deals with both of these issues. The Quadbar is a strong hoop-shaped structure that can be fitted to the towbar and rear of practically any quad. It doesn’t get in the rider’s way and, is so light, it’s hard to imagine how it could affect the handling of a quad. The slender profile of the Quadbar also means that there’s less risk of being pinned by the bar than by the large surface area of the quad.

Quadbar in action on the farm

Quadbar in action on the farm

I got one fitted just last week and next time we get our second quad serviced, we’ll have a Quadbar fitted to that as well. Everyone here seems to appreciate the Quadbar’s added safety but there is one drawback: the structure around the tow ball makes for a very tight fit and skinned knuckles. Our next step is to fit jockey wheels to our small trailers so this isn’t such a problem.

Quadbar fitted to the towbar

A tight squeeze

And if ever you needed a reminder not to let visiting children go for joy rides on your quads, consider these statistics. According to a study quoted on Farmsafe, around 25% of all child deaths were visitors to the farm, but 50% of those killed on quad bikes were visitors. Quad bikes are also the most common cause of death for children 5-14 yrs on farms. Don’t let it happen on your farm.