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.

Early to rise in the freedom (and safety) machine

The UTV is safe and comfortable farm transport

The UTV is safe and comfortable farm transport

It’s been a race against time all day. Zoe and I got out of bed extra early this morning to see if we could remove fallen timber before the big set of discs arrived to make another pass of paddock B9.

By 7am we were out in the crisp autumn air tossing logs and branches into the Bobcat that I hadn’t been able to pick up with the tractor the evening before. I must admit to loving this little machine. It’s gutsy, is easy to get into and off, takes me all over the farm with all the tools I need and, most importantly, Zoe and I can ride together in comfort and safety. When Unicorn (Zoe’s nickname for our baby due in 3 weeks) arrives, it will be possible to fit all three of us on.

Safe transport is a big issue on Australian farms. Quad bikes have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Too many have rolled, killing their riders. We’re all too aware of this and although our farm is flat to gently undulating, we make sure our quads are as safe as possible by making sure they’re properly maintained. Anyone riding a quad on our farm first undergoes a thorough induction and must observe on-farm speed limits and a strict policy of wearing helmets.

We’ve also invested in a man-down alarm, which sends a text and voice call to our phones if the wearer has been immobile at the wrong angle for too long.

Our safety systems are not perfect but we’re working on them – controlling the most serious risks first – and quad bike use is right up there.