A recent Croakey post raising concerns about the safety of quad bikes has been generating quite a bit of discussion around the traps.

Its author, Dr Yossi Berger, the National OHS Co-ordinator for the Australian Workers Union, returns to the fray today, arguing that an effective regulatory mechanism is needed. He suggests we call it QuadWatch…

Dr Berger writes:

“Assume that a reasonable proportion of quad bike riders (across all types, most industries, most tasks) have now been trained, that some of them will wear helmets some of the time doing some tasks.  Assume that untrained kids under 17 will not ride these machines, and some of those who do will wear helmets.

Assume farmers will start to designate certain areas as no go zones, some with speed limits, others with various other restrictions.  Assume that only approved accessories will be used in an intelligent and very careful manner……And so on.

In other words some of the nominated causes of serious quad bike injuries and fatalities would be fixed or protected against.  And that – it seems to me – is a fond wish of the industry.  How can it not be?!  With so many fatalities and injuries related to a product they make, obviously they’d dearly like to see that stopped.

Assume – for the sake of conversation – that no fundamental design changes to tackle rollovers are made to any quads.

Now, in the light of day, consider this:  how likely are the above assumptions to be true?

Add this to the mix:  farming is an industry where a lot of machinery is used much of the time and often urgently.  Time itself is scarce in the attempt to try and do all the jobs that need/ought to be done, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to manage.  Frequently this workplace is also the family home.  Now add problems with banks, with fences, with animals, with water, not to mention any house maintenance…….

In short, there are so many calls on farmers and their families that the focus will be on getting the many jobs done, just keeping up; this amounts to constant, unrelenting  pressure, constant pre-occupation with just keeping up.  Under such circumstances, and with this kind of focus, OHS – unfortunately – will generally be neglected.

Where there are employees on these farm,s OHS laws apply to them, but a law on paper with scarce resources for the regulator and few over-worked inspectors never go far enough.  None of this is a good justification for poor OHS standards, but it is part description of what really happens.  Not on every farm, and there are outstanding farmers in terms of OHS, but this is not the general standard.

I don’t believe that pressing and hassling farmers about OHS under such circumstances will help.  I don’t believe prosecuting or threatening farmers will do any better.  However, I also don’t believe that just repeating the obvious about helmets, training, terrain, accessories on its own will help.

I tend towards these two suggestions:  first, manufacturers must tackle some of their  products’ reported rollover proneness, as described in the earlier Croakey post.  They must state openly that these machines – as used – are prone to rollover and must be designated as risky machines.  It doesn’t help to see an advertisement for such machines ridden almost in airborne mode; not a good vision.

Secondly, perhaps with the help of organisations like the Country Women’s Association, industry and the regulator could create a network to help control this hazard.

Such a network could be called QuadWatch and it would become a clearing house for all needs related to quad bikes, particularly in relation to safety standards.  All training needs, advice about accessories, advice about the correct machine for a certain job or terrain could be handled by such regional cells.

Maybe a discussion could be opened within such groups about panic buttons on the machine.  If the quad rolls over this mechanism is activated.  Or it could be activated manually.  Such activation could be monitored within each region and by each cell.

We seem to be able to do all sorts of wondrous things with technology nowadays.  Absolutely amazing!   Can’t we use these electronic capacities to save lives on farms?”

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