It’s time for a conversation about quad bikes, says Dr Yossi Berger, the National OHS Co-ordinator for the Australian Workers Union (and an occasional Croakey correspondent).

He says that so many people are being killed and injured that there may be a need to rethink some issues around design and workplace safety.

He writes:

“There have been hundreds of fatalities around the world associated with some of these machines. In Australia there are about 12 fatalities per year and it’s reported  that even generally-safe and cautious people have also been injured and killed by quad rollovers.

Quad bike manufacturers around the world are well aware of these repeated tragedies.  They note the lack of adequate training by operators but are not as sympathetic to a focus on quad design or intrinsic rider protection.  Helmets, training, regulator inspections and support seem more attractive to them.

I  believe an open discussion about safety with quads must include quad design and reported proness to rollover.  Do the manufacturers need to consider a totally new design for some of their machines?   Are some of these machines the Pinto of agriculture, or is this unfair both to Ford and quad manufacturers?

ATV or Quad?

There are many types of quads.  They used to be called ATVs, All Terrain Vehicles. Too many deaths later and after a Victorian coroner’s comments (at an inquest over a number of quad-related fatalities) it’s now argued that they are not suited for all terrains (meaning, the lay of the land, not just type of surface), particularly with certain accessories, and the manufacturers have been warning for years against untrained use on difficult terrain.

Talk to some quad users and you hear that, “They are one of the most useful tools I have on the farm, hugely helpful to workers”.  But it’s not unusual to hear – from the same person and almost in the same breath – that they are ‘prone to roll-over’. It’s in these roll-overs that most injuries and crush-related fatalities occur.  You also hear that, “These machines are killers”.

Can all these statements be true at the same time? And what do they indicate?

The AWU’s position is that without formal, comprehensive and practical training in real work situations no worker should use them under any circumstances; they can become a threat to life otherwise.

Any training ought to provide practical skills, and then these must be applied and supervised at the workplace itself.  Without such local adaptation the operator is really in a probationary learner stage.  In the meantime OHS regulators may need to consider designating these machines as of high risk like forklifts.

Tendencies and Proneness

Quads generate the misleading and dangerous impression that little or no skill is required to operate them.  These two issues combined, matters of stability and this impression of ‘easy to ride’, are the key issues to improve safety.

Great care and special skills are required to ride quads. Without such constantly applied skills such a machine-and-operator (as an active unit) seems prone to roll over, particularly on hilly or unpredictable terrain.  At times an insignificant bump in high grass on hilly terrain is enough to roll the machine.

The quad itself, standing idle in the shed, cannot be accurately described as ‘prone’ to anything. But this is not a case of a sculpture exhibit ‘found’ in a gallery.   The moment it’s being used the active combination of rider-and-machine (R&M) creates capacities, limitations and risks; some will be accentuated, some will be controlled.

It’s reported that the likelihood of a fatal outcome is related to opertaor action and quad  rollover.  However, any typical or repeated consequence of this ‘unit’ – of R&M – can be referred to as a ‘proneness’, a tendency for better or worse  e.g. ‘they tend to be very useful’.  It seems  that some of these quads are indeed dangerous and prone to rollover.

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