Farm advice: Accidents on quad bikes

Lawyer John Sheddan offers some advice around insurance and legislation to help farmers in regards to quad bike accidents on farms

New Zealand is unique in having a no-fault accident insurance scheme provided by the Accident Compensation Corporation, commonly known as the ACC. ACC provides insurance cover for all work- and non-work-related personal injuries. 

On average, five people die in work-related quad bike accidents each year and many more are injured

Having ACC does not, however, remove the obligation or responsibility on an employer or those in charge (a person conducting a business or undertaking or ‘PCBU’) to take all necessary steps to prevent accidents from occurring. The requirement to keep employees and others safe is contained in the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA). This legislation contains penalties for those who have been shown to be negligent (i.e.: careless in providing a safe work environment) and failing to do so has caused, or contributed towards, a workplace accident.

While accidents do happen, every employer or PCBU must take all possible and foreseeable precautions to ensure that their workers’ safety, as a group and individually, is maintained. This approach has resulted in changes in many workplaces and work practices. Although these requirements have been decried by some as creating a nanny state, these requirements ensure that fewer workers are hurt in their employment.

Farms are dangerous places

Every workplace has its own unique risks – farms in particular. Tractors, hydraulically-controlled implements, heavy equipment, trailers, quad bikes, side-by-side farm vehicles, and so on all involve risk. Each requires specialised skills, training, and experience to operate and control safely.

The HSWA mandates clear responsibility onto the employer or PCBU to identify the precautions that are required for the use of such vehicles and to consider any safety equipment necessary for safe operation. As well, the HSWA clearly mandates penalties for any breach of the Act that are enforceable by WorkSafe.

Quad bikes are useful but also dangerous

Quad bike accidents and fatalities are frequently in the news. These bikes are a fantastic tool on the farm – they are strong, powerful, and a ready workhorse to assist in a variety of tasks in many locations. Quads are also, however, extremely fast, highly unstable on slopes, particularly in the hands of unskilled operators and (in the wrong circumstances and locations) highly dangerous and potentially lethal. Most experienced quad bike riders will readily share their stories of close calls where things went bad fast.

Every workplace has its own unique risks – farms in particular

WorkSafe says, that on average, five people die in work-related quad bike accidents each year and many more are injured. “Most quad bike injuries and fatalities are caused by the quad bike rolling over.”1 Further every year, for the past 10 years, there have been between 30 and 70 serious harm notifications to WorkSafe for quad accidents.2

When riding a quad, yes, a helmet should be supplied and worn. No, this will not prevent an accident but will clearly act to prevent harm from an accident. It’s obvious that if a rider is thrown from a quad that they are likely to receive a head injury or, in the event of a rollover, their head could be crushed.

Similarly, should rollover protection be installed on a quad? Or if rollover is a risk, is a quad the best vehicle for that purpose? Does a farmer or PCBU need to reconsider where, or if, quads are used and, if so, by whom?

Australians ahead of NZ in quad regulation

Last year, Australia passed a Federal law requiring all quads to have lateral static stability and to display sales information quoting the tip angle. From October 2021, Australian law will require operator protection (rollover) devices to be fitted, and minimum stability requirements for new and second-hand imported general-use quad bikes.3

In New Zealand, WorkSafe now strongly recommends that rollover protection is fitted on all work quads.4

There’s no one solution that fits all in the quad bike arena. The work done on a quad, the users, the skills, and the locations all need to be factored and the risks considered. This is a continuous duty, the users, and the skills available today, may be different tomorrow or next week.

The aftermath

WorkSafe is responsible for administering the HSWA, and investigating and prosecuting injury or fatal accidents when it is believed negligence is involved.

It’s the courts, however, that make the final decision on guilt and penalties in the event of workplace accidents. Multiple parties are now frequently being drawn into accident investigations and court proceedings.

It’s necessary for every employer or PCBU to consider — looking at the risks involved in this activity, have I done and considered everything possible to ensure safety? Should I be considering any other aspect? Or, more particularly, — would WorkSafe consider that if an accident were to occur, was there more that should have been done or better care taken to protect a worker?

Workplace accidents can and will happen. Common sense and safety can reduce the number of accidents. Safety, however, requires planning. Everyone should go home, each night, and it’s everyone’s duty and responsibility to ensure this happens.

Information given in this column should not be a substitute for legal advice.

John Sheddan is a director of Gore law firm, Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd. He specialises in rural and commercial issues involving rural and residential property sales, business sales, leases, subdivisions, and the implication of the HSWA on businesses.

Sheddan Pritchard Law Ltd is a member of NZ LAW Limited, an association of 53 independent law firms practising in more than 80 locations.

1 https://www.worksafe.govt.nz/laws-and-regulations/operational-policy-framework/operational-policies/policy-clarification-crush-protection-devices-on-quad-bikes/

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