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 fit the bike with an OPD.

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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Sight and safety

My recent brush with 650kg of angry cow triggered a discussion on social media about the best way to protect yourself from an attack. Veterinarian Dr Zoe Vogels offered some interesting insights about the ways cows perceive the world and kindly agreed to explain more here on Milk Maid Marian. Thank you, Zoe, for this fascinating guest post!

One thing I don’t remember being taught at university was cow biology and behaviour – a must, one would think, for a new grad dairy vet! While preparing for a farmer talk earlier this year, it was good to finally read up on such an interesting topic.

Domestication of wild cattle began in the middle east more than 10,000 years ago – as an exchange. Cattle give us milk and meat and labour and in return we provide them with food, water, shelter from the environment and safety from predators.

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What our dairy cows’ ancestors looked like. (Source: http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/6/4/705/htm)

Despite cattle being domesticated for such a long time, some of these wild behaviours have never left. As prey animals, cows are constantly vigilant to detect and escape from potential predators.

Cows have binocular vision for only the 25–30° straight in front of them. Binocular vision is like ours: the eyes can focus to perceive depth, distance and speed.

To get the best possible vision of something of interest, cows will lower their head and face the object straight on.

The rest of a cow’s field of vision is monocular: they can detect movement very well (i.e. potential predators) but cannot judge depth or distance well.

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These cows are investigating the strange being lying on the ground taking photos of them

When a cow is grazing with their head down, they can see almost 360° (which helps to monitor for those nasty predators!) but when their head is raised, there is a blind spot behind them. Approaching cows from the front, approaching them quickly and moving in or out of the rear blind spot can spook a cow.

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I’d love to be able to put on some “cow-coloured” glasses to see the world through their eyes. One thing I discovered is that cows can see colour, though perhaps not with the intensity that we can. They can distinguish red from green or blue but have difficulty distinguishing between green and blue (Phillips and Lomas, 2001, JDS 84:807-813)

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Cow eyes can register wavelengths of around 450 nm and 550 nm (Jacobs et al 1998 Vis Neuro Sci 15:581-584). The human eye registers wavelengths from 400 nm to 700 nm and so will see red, green and blue equally.

Cows have horizontal pupils and weak eye muscles, which means they cannot focus quickly. Shadows and bright light will make them baulk. For example, a shadow across the dairy yard – is it a shadow, or a deep, dark snake-filled pit that they will fall into?!

A few safety tid-bits
Despite thousands of years of domestication, the behaviour of cows still closely resembles that of their wild ancestors. These ancient bovines used to react to wolves by running away – kicking as they ran – or by turning and fighting back by butting and goring.

Remember that if frightened or angry, cows can defend themselves by using their head to bunt, horns (if they have them) to gore, and legs to kick. Stationary cows can kick forward to their shoulder and out to the side with their hind legs, while moving cattle kick directly backwards

Bulls and cows with calves can be especially dangerous: the following link shows a cow trampling a bear that got too close to her babe. Animals can turn on you in the blink of an eye and it’s important for everyone working with cattle remembers this doesn’t get complacent: on a recent veterinary discussion list, the following wise words were uttered: “treat ‘em all like they’re killers”.

Even down cows can be dangerous with their back legs – I’m sure many of you have seen this awful footage.

As herd animals, cows all want to do the same thing at the same time, as it reduces the risk of predation (they confuse those wild lions by the large number of animals running in random directions). This means cows are fearful of situations where they are solitary isolation.

As a vet, I have encountered this many times: an animal that’s quiet and blends in while with the herd, but wants to kill you when you’re called on farm to examine it. Keep several animals together and ensure everyone (including the vet!) knows which animal is to be seen/treated.

There are lots of other OH&S issues when working with cattle (I could write another page on crushes for example), but three important ones:

  • Always identify an escape route for yourself when working with cattle
  • Never be in front of animal in a race (they may run forward and squash you)
  • Always ensure there is a barrier behind you if you’re working in a race and other cows are still in the yard behind you (again, they may run forward and squash you)

 

Tired, stupid, almost dead farmer

FireRadishI was knackered. It’d been a long few days of really physical work and I’d just finished burning a paddock of dead weeds. I was tired, hot, stinky and pushing through a three-day-old crushing headache.

It was almost 8pm and I just wanted to go home. I only needed to ride the quad around the darkened paddock to make sure the fire really was out and safe to leave.

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Squinting into the smoke, I darted west across the charred flats. And then, suddenly, a single strand of electric fence wire appeared where no wire had ever been. Until the day before, at least.

Yes, I had rolled out, strained and rammed in the posts for that very same wire just 26 hours earlier. But in my stupor, in autopilot, energy-saving mode, it didn’t exist.

I slammed on the brakes instinctively trying to lean back while hanging onto the handlebars. In slow motion, the wire lifted over the handlebars, twanging savagely against my forearms.

I was 30 or 40 cms – a fraction of a second – from being garotted.

Stunned at my own stupidity, I backed away from the wire and tried feebly to jam the steel post that I’d sent flying a couple of metres back into the ground.

It’s a salutary lesson. Once, I would’ve had contractors in to build that fence instead of wearing myself so thin. Today, the budget simply doesn’t allow for such luxuries. The ripple effect of the dairy crisis shouldn’t be underestimated.

Why wear tall rubber boots on a 35 degree day?

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This very stylish cow is modelling Milk Maid fashions for the day. The hat, sunnies, first aid kit stashed in the Bobcat glovebox and sunscreen don’t need any explanation but the boots might.

I might be a bit of a chicken but reckon I’ve had about a dozen “near death experiences” with snakes. Never been bitten, never want to. Hence, the horribly hot but impenetrable footwear. Maybe it’s time to invest in some gaiters!

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Dead baby snake found where the school bus stops