Quad bike videos you can’t afford to miss

A fantastic new library of videos, tools and guides have just been released by WorkSafe Vic and I reckon they’re really worth a good look for everyone on farm.

Quad bikes are part of everyday life on most dairy farms but it’s a big mistake to take them for granted.

Some say it’s only operator error that gets people killed on quads. But everyone’s capable of being human.

Wayne and I pride ourselves on being safety conscious but over time, have almost squashed or necked ourselves just making simple mistakes.
QuadTipped

Fast, powerful and agile, quads are incredibly practical machines that can kill precisely because they are fast, powerful and agile. We were lucky not to be hurt but, sometimes, luck just isn’t enough.

QuadLights

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.

IMG_8016

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
WorkSafe-Caldermeade-29062017-1615

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

OHS inductions for the city cousins?

“City cousin season” is fast approaching for many farmers. It’s a time we look forward to here but we do have to be extra careful. With new safety laws emphasising the need to include volunteers and visitors to the farm in safety systems, I asked Kevin Jones, OHS consultant, freelance writer and editor of the award-winning SafetyAtWorkBlog.com what it all means.

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones

Some media has been reporting anger and outrage about the Government imposing new work health and safety duties on small business, volunteers, farmers and many others. There are new safety laws in many States but largely these reflect the moral and safety responsibilities that have always existed. If farms have been doing the right thing in the past, they are likely to be doing the right thing in the future.

OHS laws are always going to be seen as an imposition from the city when things were pretty good the way they were. Things may have seemed to be pretty good but plenty of families lost relatives in farm accidents, many lost limbs or struggle to cope with economic stress. There is plenty of statistical evidence to show that things in the country weren’t as good as many thought and the Government felt obliged to act. Perhaps the original work health and safety laws, developed in the cities in the 1980s, were not suited to the country or the application of these laws needed a different approach from that in the city. But the intention of these laws is always to reduce harm, injury, death and the related impacts on farming families.

These occupational health and safety (OHS) laws may also require paperwork but so does public liability insurance, Business Activity Statements, and a range of other paperwork all businesses are obliged to provide. Paperwork has always felt to be a major distraction to why we set up our businesses in the first place.

Over the last twenty years OHS laws have broadened from the physically-defined workplace to include the impact of work on others such as visitors, neighbours and customers. But the workplace has also changed to an extent where it is hard to know where a workplace starts and a workplace ends. Many in the city struggle with these laws but farming communities have always worked with an almost invisible delineation between a workplace and a home. Where others went outside for a smoke, farmers often went for a smoke and checked on the animals. Farmers are hardly ever not working, and this means that farms are almost always workplaces, so when visitors come to the farm for a weekend break, they are visiting a workplace and so OHS laws will apply.

This unreal demarcation is a major reason why the new laws focus on Work and not the workplace. Dealing primarily with the work activity focuses on the reduction of harm to the worker rather than making a workplace safe. Often the best, most tidy, most organised workplaces still had unsafe work being done.

Do the new laws mean that all visitors require a safety induction before entering the farm and to sign a document saying they understand the rules? Usually, no, but if they come to undertake farming activities (ie. work), maybe there should be an introduction to the farm – where to go, where not to go, what to touch, what not, what to drive, what to keep away from. Maybe the signs in the milking shed need to be written for visitors instead of in family shorthand. Maybe pits should be covered instead of assuming the pit will be in the same state next morning.

If WorkSafe is called to a farm, for whatever reason, showing the inspectors that you know about your OHS obligations and apply basic safety procedures to equipment, tractors, quad bikes, and industrial and agricultural chemicals is going to reassure them that you know what you’re on about and that you are active about managing the safety of your workers, visitors and family. Will you be found to be in compliance with the OHS laws? Probably not, but neither are most of the small businesses in the cities either.

OHS is often dismissed as only common sense. But OHS is almost always common sense, after an incident. Why didn’t we cover that pit? Why did I leave the keys in the quad bike? Why didn’t I chain up the dog when I knew kids were coming over? These and many other daily questions are all made safer through the common sense of covering or fencing the pit, hanging up the keys, chaining the dog. If safety is only common sense why then don’t we apply it?

The new Work Health and Safety laws are not yet active in all States and Safe Work Australia, or your local OHS regulators, are a good place to watch and see if and when these laws apply to specific circumstances and industries.

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.

O-week for a young cow

The first member of the class of 2012 has calved and she’s lovely! To help her learn the ropes, we’ve had her with the milking herd for a couple of weeks prior to calving. The noises of the dairy are already familiar and the dinner served during milking must have been divine because she only kicked at the cups once – even though it’s the first time anyone’s handled her teats, let alone milked her.

That’s a big deal for us as farmers. A quiet cow is a happy cow and that means she lets down her milk readily and is less likely to suffer mastitis. And we are less likely to get hurt. In the dairy, we have to reach between the powerful hind legs of 550 kg cows, 500 times a day. Getting kicked can mean broken fingers, hands, arms and faces.

Anyhow, this young cow is a pretty cool customer, even when being pestered by a silly pup who wants to slurp up some delicious cow poo (never let a farm dog lick your face).

The negatives of being a dairy farmer

It’s time to balance yesterday’s post about the five upsides of being a dairy farmer with the three big downsides. I’m not whingeing – I have consciously chosen to be a dairy farmer – but nor am I going to beat about the bush because the issues are too serious to sweep under the carpet.

Piggy Bank

Sadly, almost all of the negatives about dairy farming come down to money.

Financial stress
Dairy farmers are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. When I was a teen, it was far easier as the terms of trade chart below shows.

Terms of Trade for Victorian dairy farmers

Not a pretty picture for dairy farmers

Basically, our standard of living has been cut by a third since the 1980s despite skyrocketing productivity.

High workload
Dairy cows are milked twice a day, seven days per week, and if you can’t afford to employ people, you need to work seven days per week, too. You start before dawn and generally finish after sunset.

Unless you have the money to pay someone to look after the farm, you also miss out on holidays.

A dangerous place to work
The many tasks and unpredictability of animals make farms among Australia’s most hazardous workplaces. Because they are also homes, farm injuries and deaths tragically include children. If you don’t have enough money to pay for assistance, again, you’re more likely to attempt jobs that should be left to skilled people with the right gear.

Aside from the risk of physical injury, the stress of farming with low incomes and at the mercy of Mother Nature can be pyschologically devastating. Farmers are around twice as likely to end their own lives with suicide than other Australians. Farmers are resilient but we are human.

How many kids die on Australian farms each year? Each week?

You can see from my blog that I take our children pretty much everywhere with me on the farm. The thing is, there are places I no longer go, so they can stay safe. I don’t milk, I don’t get into the yard when it’s full of cows and I avoid situations where cattle of any age are moving quickly in confined spaces.

I can make these choices because we can afford to pay other people to help but not every farmer can. And out here, the town’s youngest children have access to just two hours’ formal care per week.

If you don’t have an extended family willing and able to help, you might feel there’s little choice but to leave the kids playing by the gate or sitting in the ute while you do a risky job. This is how farm safety and childcare are so tightly connected. There’s nothing bourgeoise about needing childcare to drench the heifers or build a fence.

The impact of a lack of childcare on a farming community is tricky to gauge but the unfathomable grief that seeps through a community after the death of a child is something that resonates in your bones for many years. According to the stats, one child is killed on an Australian farm every fortnight.

I wouldn’t normally include a whole slab of stats but these, from the Aghealth Australia site, are so telling:

A recent study by the National Farm Injury Data Centre (NFIDC) based at AgHealth of on-farm fatalities for the 2001-2004 period found that:

Children (0-14yrs) make up 15-20% of farm injury deaths, around 2/3 are male. Main agents are:

  • Drowning in dams (mostly under five year olds)
  • Quad bikes or 4 wheeled motorbikes
  • Farm vehicles (cars, utes)
  • Around quarter of all child deaths were visitors to the farm, but for quad bikes around ½ are visitors
  • Drowning accounts for around 35-40% on child farm deaths, with farm dams being by far the most common site.

There has been an improvement in the reduction of toddler drowning on farms in recent years – particularly a reduction of dam drownings, which have halved since the early nineties. However, drowning is still the number one cause of child farm fatality in Australia. A common scenario is that a toddler wanders away from the home un-noticed into farm water bodies or toward other farm hazards (vehicles, mobile machinery). Apart from dams, children can find their way into creeks, troughs, dips and channels. Children under five years are at greatest risk.

For non-fatal injury of children on farms, older children (5 -15 yrs) figure more prominently – particularly in relation to injury from 2 and 4 wheeled motorbikes (and horses). Whilst there tend to be more hospital ED presentations for 2 wheeled motorbikes, injuries from quad bikes are likely to be more severe or fatal, with 4 times as many children being killed off ATV’s than 2 wheel motorbikes on farms (NFIDC 2007).

Why doesn’t farm safety gear have the same cred as motorbike leathers?

Motorbike leathers are worn like a badge of honour by some of the toughest (and scariest) blokes in the country. They reek of the danger inherent in their metal steeds.

Farmers don’t share this aura yet spend hours every day on bikes and working inches from hundreds of half-tonne animals. The risks are real and the consequences can be heartbreaking.

Following yesterday’s tragic death of an 11-year-old boy, WorkSafe spokesperson Michael Birt told The Weekly Times there had been 14 workplace deaths in Victoria and five of those were on farms.

“A third of the deaths have happened on farms and it’s people doing routine tasks. You don’t get much more routine than moving cattle on a dairy farm,” Mr Birt said.

Despite all of this, some of us hesitate to protect ourselves. I don’t know why. The other day, someone suggested there’s a fear we might “look like sissies”. By all means call me a sissy for looking after myself but I wouldn’t try running that line by a Hell’s Angel.

Hidden farm hazard

Hidden farm hazards

Hidden farm hazard

Farms are notoriously hazardous workplaces. One of the reasons is the sheer unpredicatbility of what a day will bring. This morning, I drove the UTV across one of our riverflat paddocks. You can see my wheeltracks in the grass but can you see why I had to swerve suddenly? It’s just four metres away from the Bobcat’s bullbar.

When I was almost on top of it, a freshly-dug wombat hole appeared. Wombats are a common sight on the farm and while these podgy-looking recluses are endearing creatures, they’re also very powerful excavators. The holes are typically larger than a wheel and present a serious hazard to anyone riding a quad bike or even driving a 4WD. For this reason, we have a farm speed limit of 30km/hr on the tracks and 10km/hr in the paddocks.

Here’s the wombat hole I so narrowly missed this morning.

Hidden wombat hole hazard

Just missed this wombat hole