In the last ten days, another three people have died after quad bike accidents. Two of the deaths were in Victoria and one was in Tasmania, according to Associate Professor Tony Lower, Director of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety.
The Centre has today released a new policy calling for quad bikes to be fitted with appropriate rollover protection devices. It will be interesting to see how the industry reacts.
It’s time to act on quad bike safety
Tony Lower writes:
Following a further three quad bike-related deaths (at least two of which involved rollovers), the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety has released a new policy statement recommending that quad bikes be fitted with suitably tested rollover protection devices.
As an independent research centre that bases its findings on facts alone, we need to let farmers know about this information so they can make up their own mind about fitting protective devices.
Thus far in 2011 there have been five quad bike deaths and we already know of 22 serious injuries (six of which were to children) that were significant enough to make media reports. This we know is an underestimate, as not all deaths and injuries are reported in the media.
Of course the manufacturers will bring out the old story that these devices cause more injuries than they prevent. However, the negative evidence regarding protective devices has been called into serious question by independent, experienced and highly regarded engineers.
Concerns include the way in which:
- Factors and assumptions were put into the computer models used to calculate potential benefits and risks
- Interpretation of the results
- Inability of the model to predict asphyxiation and crush/trunk injuries (which are the leading problem associated with rollovers)
These independent assessments of the manufacturer-supported research are also important as to our knowledge, it is the first time that this work has been critically scrutinised, and it has been found to have highly significant and major shortcomings.
Additionally, these independent assessments are exactly that – these individuals have no conflict of interest in either the commercial activities related to quad bikes or the protective devices.
The basis of the manufacturers’ arguments about risk and benefit of fitting protective devices has been built around the International Standard (ISO 13232), which is focused on motorcycle collisions with impact damage – not quad bikes.
However, it does not take into account rollovers and crushing injuries (which account for about 50% of all quad fatalities). So it effectively takes half of all deaths out of the modeling and as such, it would be impossible to measure potential protective benefits in the event of a rollover.
Additionally, to make their argument “fit” their entrenched stance to protective devices, they have used a scale that means if a protective device prevented 13 deaths but caused 1, then it was an unacceptable risk. This does not pass any test of reasonableness – and I think farmers would see it this way as well.
In other countries producers are voting with their feet; for example, estimates in NZ are that 15% of quads have some kind of protective device.
In Australia many farmers and other organisations (e.g. Surf Lifesaving Australia) have moved away from using quad bikes at all because the risk of rollover has been seen to be too high. Others, including agricultural training institutions, have looked at the issues and fitted suitably tested protective devices to reduce risks in the event of a rollover.
This current recommendation to fit suitably tested rollover protective devices to quad bikes is based on precautionary principles.
We agree that more research is needed on protective devices; however, the need for more accurate scientific information has sometimes been used as a reason for inaction.
The combination of rigid policy stances requiring irrefutable evidence of risk, social attitudes and interference by vested interests often result in policy-makers having to wait unreasonable lengths of time before they can commit themselves to preventive action.
By way of example, tobacco was first linked to cancer in 1950 – but it took another 30 plus years for prevention efforts to really get a kick along (during which time countless millions of people suffered). There have been similar stories with lead and asbestos.
We do not want to make the same mistake with quad bikes – while the numbers are not as large, I’d like the manufacturers to explain to the families who have lost loved ones or to people that have been seriously incapacitated why they are so opposed to these products even when the independent evidence supports their fitment.
Decisions are inevitably political in nature, value-laden and affect economic interests, and tensions will always exist between economic interests and other values. However, decisions should always be informed by the best available science (which we believe this new evidence has highlighted), common sense and community values.
The new policy requires that the first step is selecting the safest vehicle for the task that needs to be completed, and if a quad bike is still to be used after that consideration, then owners should be encouraged to fit a suitably tested rollover protective device to reduce death and serious injury.
Copies of the policy statement and the revised guide for use of quad bikes can be obtained from the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety (02 6752 8210) or by visiting the website www.aghealth.org.au
For previous Croakey posts on quad bikes: