IF we knew 25 years ago what we know now about the stability of quad bikes, we wouldn’t allow them in the country – that’s the opinion of Tony Lower, director of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety, speaking in the wake of the tragic death of 26-year-old livestock agent and budding auctioneer Dale Kirchen in a quad bike accident south of Winton last weekend.
In 2012, quad bikes and tractors were the leading cause of non-intentional farm injury deaths, accounting for 40 per cent of all cases.
In the past two years quad bikes have overtaken tractors as the leading cause of on-farm fatal injury.
Over half of these deaths result from the machines rolling over, asphyxiating people or crushing them to death.
A coronial enquiry into a series of quad bike deaths is due to get underway in Queensland in May and will be inviting submissions, but hearings aren’t expected before September or October this year and findings are unlikely to be brought down before the end of the year.
In the meantime, statistics suggest that people will continue to die while using quad bikes.
Apart from promoting correct usage practices – Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie and Queensland rugby league legend Mal Meninga hosted its annual workplace health and safety breakfast in Roma this week to highlight the need for better safety in country Queensland, and an educational video has been released – the state government is sitting on its hands on the matter until the coronial recommendations are handed down.
Mr Bleijie believes education is a key component in reducing the risks of quad bike use, a sentiment shared by Mr Lower.
“The key here is that there are 220,000 quads in Australia – even though people are moving more into side-by-side vehicles which have lateral stability and are fitted with roll protection and seatbelts – they are not going to disappear overnight,” he said.
“We can jump up and down about the flaws they have, but it’s a joint responsibility – producers have got to understand how to use them properly.”
He said they were simply too difficult to manage in a work context where operators were concentrating on various things, and added that government had a role to play in setting out standards for quad bikes and making sure they were complied with.
Much of this was reiterated by Farmsafe Queensland CEO Jamie Cupples, who said there was a wide misconception of what quad bikes could do.
“I believe there should be an awareness campaign,” he said. “People buy them but they don’t understand them.
“Manufacturers and dealers can say they have training but it doesn’t go farm wide and it doesn’t look into situational awareness, where people are concentrating on chasing animals.”
The manufacturers’ lobby group, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, is tight-lipped when asked what approaches it is taking to the problem.
A spokesperson this week gave the standard answer that it encourages quad bike users to follow known safety practices and is encouraging users to undertake training and watch the safety video provided when a quad bike is purchased.
While they say that you shouldn’t ride an adult-sized quad bike if you are under 16, Farmsafe Australia is pleading with parents to ensure that children under 16 don’t ride or be carried as passengers on quad bikes of any size.
Recommended ways of making sure people are safer while operating quad bikes:
• Choosing whether the quad bike is the safest machine for the job
• Fit a Crush Protection device to prevent injury during rollover
• Only operate bikes that are in good repair. Do a pre-operation safety check, especially brakes and tyre pressure
• Only ride a quad bike if you have been properly trained
• Do not let anyone under 16 years old operate a quad bike of any size
• Do not carry passengers
• Making sure that the quad bike is not overloaded
• Only ride the quad bike on farm tracks and areas that have been identified as safe
• All operators are to wear a helmet
Safe Work Australia - QuadWatch statistics
• As of 28 April 2014, six people have been killed this year in quad bike related incidents. Three of these deaths were the result of a roll over.
• There were 21 quad bike related fatalities in 2013.
• There were 19 quad bike related fatalities in 2012.
• There were 20 fatalities in 2011.
• Between 2001 and 2012, there were over 170 quad bike deaths.