Classrooms were shut for the first day of term four last year at Kahutara School in honour of 10-year-old student Shane White, who was killed in a quad bike accident on a farm in South Wairarapa. Just a day after Shane's tragic accident, an Australian woman suffered a serious head injury in a quad bike accident on a farm near Port Waikato.
In November, an Okauia farmer bought a helmet for the farm quad bike. Ten days later he was riding his quad bike over a crossing when the crossing collapsed. The handlebars struck him on the head and he was pinned underneath the quad bike. He survived. The helmet was completely cracked in the accident and is credited for saving his life.
All terrain vehicles – including quad bikes – are part of everyday rural life. They are the most widely used motor vehicle on New Zealand farms, with an estimated 100,000 in daily use around the country.
On average, 850 people are injured and five die every year while riding quad bikes on New Zealand farms.
Over the past three years, ACC has paid out $29 million in claims involving quad bikes and other all-terrain vehicles (this includes motorbikes with three or four wheels). There have been 11,084 claims for injuries and 26 accidental death claims for deaths involving quad bikes and other ATVs since 2008.
Over recent years, concerted efforts have been made to reinforce the safe use of quad bikes, and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment ("MBIE") will be continuing its Quad Bike Safety Campaign this year. The key messages of the campaign are:
- Always wear a helmet
- Make sure riders are experienced or trained
- Never let kids ride adult quad bikes; and
- Choose the right vehicle for the job.
The Ministry has recently warned that farmers can expect to see inspectors who will be checking how quad bikes are used and penalties will follow if unsafe practices are observed.
Farmers have the same duties under health and safety legislation as other employers and risk significant penalties (up to $250,000) if someone working on the farm is injured or killed. Under health and safety legislation, an employer must take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employees. This implies that guidelines set out by the Ministry should be followed.
The guidelines provide practical advice on how to reduce the likelihood of quad bike accidents on farms, and they list potential hazards and steps which can be taken to manage hazards. ( http://www.osh.govt.nz/publications/booklets/safe-use-quad-bikes/toc.asp).
The Ministry is resisting a call from some safety advisors to make roll bars compulsory on quad bikes, preferring to educate users and encourage them to adopt a responsible and proactive approach to safety. The Ministry suggests that quad bike riders always wear a helmet, establish "no-go zones" on dangerous or rough terrain and set appropriate speed limits relevant to particular areas of the farm, tasks or weather/track conditions.
It is up to individual farmers to ensure increased safety when using quad bikes (and all terrain vehicles) on the farm. This may well involve a significant change in the attitude and culture of New Zealand farmers and is likely to involve the Ministry taking a harder line surrounding quad bikes. Such a change, although likely to be met with resistance, is one that is necessary to avoid farmers paying the ultimate price.