Why quad bike design is the elephant in the safety room

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 10 June, 2022 - 12:30
Industry news
National News

While quad bike manufacturers are focused on what they term “known safety practices” (such as the use of helmets), the ‘elephant in the room’ continues to be the design of quads, their stability and propensity for rollovers resulting in asphyxiation and crush-related injuries, according to a recent study into quad-related deaths.

Rollover incidents continue to be a major cause of incidents and fatalities associated with quad bikes, according to the study which was conducted in relation to the introduction of the Consumer Goods (Quad Bikes) Safety Standard 2019, which identified 155 cases, with 116 occurring on a farm and 39 in a non-farm context.

Deaths were evenly split between work (52 per cent) and non-work activities, however, 66 per cent of all farm incidents involved work.

Rollovers were responsible for 59 per cent of cases and occurred largely on farms (86 per cent), while working (69 per cent) and head injury (32 per cent) and asphyxiation (29 per cent) were primary causes of death.

The research study, A descriptive review of quad-related deaths in Australia (2011–20), was conducted by Tony Lower, Kerri-Lynn Peachey and Lyn Fragar from AgHealth Australia in the school of rural health at The University of Sydney.

It found helmet use was low (less than 5 per cent) in head injury cases, with 80 per cent of the asphyxiation cases incurring no life-threatening injury other than being entrapped by the quad bike.

Analysis of the nature of crash events highlights the leading mechanisms of injury, including rollover with no load or attachments, collision with stationary objects and rollover with spray tanks.

While the total number of on-farm incidents for both rollovers and non-rollovers exceeded that for non-farm deaths, the non-farm deaths were proportionally more likely to involve non-rollovers (67 per cent) and not be work-related (90 per cent).

The study also noted the attention of quad bike manufacturers has been focused on what they term “known safety practices” (e.g. use of helmets), and while these are important issues though they are not satisfactory to addressing the breadth of the problem – especially the burden imposed by rollovers and subsequent asphyxiation.

“The ‘elephant in the room’ continues to be the design of quads, their stability and propensity for rollovers resulting in asphyxiation and crush-related injuries,” the study said.

“Without addressing engineering design as part of a suite of approaches, it is impossible to make genuine inroads into these statistics. Abrogating this responsibility will no longer be possible for manufacturers given the new standard.”