Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
It’s been another shocking summer for drownings across Australia. Royal Life Saving Australia tallied 79 drowning deaths (as of 31 January 2022), compared to 69 at this time last year. While the media focuses on drowning deaths every summer, other high-risk activities largely go unnoticed.
A new report published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH), titled ‘A descriptive review of quad-related deaths in Australia (2011–20)’, highlights the worrying number of quad bike-related deaths in Australia.
The study reports, “In Australia and New Zealand, these vehicles are widely used within the agriculture sector and for recreational purposes. Quads are four-wheeled vehicles (sometimes colloquially referred to as quad bikes or ATVs – All Terrain Vehicles), with a straddle seat and handlebars.”
The researchers, of AgHealth Australia (formerly the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety), accessed data retrieved from the National Coronial Information System which showed that quad bike deaths continue to dominate farm deaths in Australia. 2013 research reported additional concerning statistics: “For each fatality there are about 40 hospital admissions, and at least a further 40 ED [emergency department] presentations.”
Dr Tony Lower from AgHealth noted in 2013 that, “Quad bikes have been heavily marketed by manufacturers as an essential farm ‘workhorse’ so it is unsurprising that the majority of quad deaths (65%) and rollover-related deaths occur on farms”.
Dr Lower’s 2013 ANZJPH study, titled ‘Australian quad bike fatalities: what is the economic cost?’, reported that, over one decade, “There were 124 fatal quad bike related incidents in Australia.”
For this research, “A human capital approach was adopted to establish the economic costs of quad bike related fatalities to the Australian economy. The model included estimates on loss of earnings due to premature death and direct costs based on coronial records for ambulance, police, hospital, premature funeral, coronial and work safety authority investigation, and death compensation costs.
“The estimated total economic cost associated with quad bike fatalities over the 10-year period was $288.1 million, with an average cost for each fatality of $2.3 million.”
New safety standards
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair, Rod Sims, described the record number of quad bike related deaths in 2020, and the high estimated daily injury counts since 2011, as “appalling and unacceptable”.
In early 2021, the ACCC announced that implementing crucial quad bike related safety standards was a priority ahead of new mandates coming into force late last year. These made it a legal requirement that new quad bikes be sold with an Operator Protection Device.
155 fatal incidents
The latest ANZJPH report says, “There were 155 fatal incidents involving quads in the study period [2011-20], representing a mean of approximately 15 cases annually [compared to 13 p.a. in the previous study]. In total, 122 (79%) of the cases had been formally closed by a coroner. Males were involved in 126 cases (81%), with 29 female cases. Total numbers fluctuated both on an annual basis (range 8–22 cases) and within states. The majority of cases (n=119: 77%), occurred in the states of New South Wales, Queensland or Victoria. Overall, 116 (75%) of the cases occurred on a farm (inclusive of work and non-work incidents), with the balance (n=39), in non-farm locations.”
“Of the 98 farm incidents where the activity being undertaken was known, 65 (66%) occurred when the machine was being used for work. In contrast, 9% of deaths were associated with a work activity off-farm.”
“Analysis of the nature of the crash event highlights the leading mechanisms of injury as: rollover with no load or attachments (n=44), collision with stationary object (n=30) and rollover with spray tank (n=17). Overall, rollovers were the mechanism in 59% (n=91) of all incidents. Rollovers occurred predominantly on farms (86%), with 46 of the 48 work-related rollover deaths occurring in this context.”
“Presence of a load was also identified as a potential risk factor in rollover deaths, with over one third (34%), involving a load or attachment on the machine such as the carrying of passengers, fitment of a spray tank or unit, and the towing of trailers.
“For the 65 on-farm cases known to be undertaking work at the time of the incident, a notable portion (32%), involved mustering cattle or sheep (n=21). Other activities of note included weed spraying (17%; n=11) and general transport use (15%; n=10).
“The peak age group for all deaths is 60–74 years (25%), with those 45–59 years (21%) also prominent. The mean age was 47 years (SD 23.5) and median 52 years. Overall, those over 45 years of age made up 60% of total cases. For rollovers specifically, those over 45 years of age were involved in 67% of all incidents.”
“For all cases, head injury was the primary cause of death associated with the greatest proportion of cases (32%), closely followed by other external causes i.e. asphyxiation (29%). Multiple injuries (18%) and thorax injuries (10%) were also prominent causes of death in relation to both rollover and non-rollover injury events. Of the 47 head injury cases, helmet use (yes/no) was known for 33 incidents, with only one case involving a rider with a helmet at the time of the incident.”
“The data in this study reinforces the ongoing fatality burden imposed by quads, especially in a farm and work context. Consequently, a broadly based approach addressing both behavioural risk factors and design considerations inclusive of retrofitting the existing fleet of quads with Operator Protection Devices is essential. The implementation of the Standard to enhance design (stability & operator protection) is supported by this data and will require ongoing monitoring and evaluation.”
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