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

Lucky to be alive

Zoe drives the David Brown

Zoe drives the David Brown

I used to mow and rake the hay with this tractor and the brakes were so hard to operate, I had to stand up to put all my teenage weight on them to get the David Brown to stop. Those were the days before Roll Over Protection Systems (ROPS), let alone cabins, on tractors.

Today’s tractors must have ROPS by law and most have cabs as standard. Thank God. My husband, Wayne, was unloading a B-Double truck of hay recently, when one of the huge rectangles (8x4x3) weighing just over 500kg fell off the front end loader tynes, bounced off the tractor where the windscreen meets the roof and came to rest perfectly balanced on the bonnet. Without the ROPS built into the cabin, he would almost certainly have been killed.

Even though we are much better protected these days, tractors and quad bikes cause almost all the deaths on Australian farms. The introduction of ROPS on tractors was really contentious back in the 1990s (was it that long ago?) and now, the introduction of Crush Protection Devices on quads is causing the same controversy today. The sooner we just put them on and get on with it, the more lives we’ll save.

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.

AND

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.