New legislation to impact vineyard ATVs: No longer rolling the dice

All-terrain vehicles, while extremely practical and versatile for agricultural use, especially in vineyards, present many risks to the operator. As of August last year in Australia, 150 people, including 23 children, have lost their lives in incidents relating to ATVs on farmland since 2011. In October this year, new legislation aims to reduce the risk to life of using these vehicles for work. Journalist Samuel Squire spoke to SAWIA to find out what is being done.

Quadbike and other ATV-related deaths have been one of the leading causes of farmland fatalities, and in October this year, much needed legislation is being implemented in an effort to reduce the risks associated with operating these vehicles.

In the first half of 2020, the number of quadbike-related fatalities had doubled when compared to 2019’s figures. Fourteen people, including three children died in Australia, with seven recorded fatalities in Queensland, according to a report by the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission).

That number increased to 23 by the end of the year, including another youth fatality. In these 23 instances, at least 10 were related to rollover accidents where the vehicle landed on the operator.

As of February 18 this year, there have already been two reported quadbike fatalities according to Safe Work Australia – one in the Northern Territory and one in New South Wales.

Business and workplace adviser for the South Australian Wine Industry Association (SAWIA), Zvonko Levak, says new legislation, which will make rollover protection mandatory on new purchases of ATVs, is a much needed step to reduce the risk of fatality or injury from operating these vehicles, which are regularly used in viticulture operations.

SAWIA had put a submission to the ACCC in support of the recommendations which Levak says will “improve safety around quadbikes, as they are one of the leading causes of farmland fatality and traumatic injury”.

Levak says the new measures that will result in rollover protection being added to newly-purchased ATVs “are a small price to pay” to save lives.

He added that the instances of ATV-related fatalities are often related to individual circumstances.

“I understand that as recently as last month, a fatality on a farm in Queensland occurred and, whilst the specific circumstances around the incident haven’t been disclosed, when you have a look historically at incidences of fatalities, they fall under a range of factors,” he said.

“The mandatory specifications coming into effect in October refer to design specifications for rollover protection on these vehicles, and in addition to that, there are certain modifications that are made to their suspension as well as their the drive shaft, and how the vehicle operates to improve stability on the uneven surfaces that they’re being operated on.

“But also in the event that rollover does occur through the use, or misuse, of the ATV, the rollover protection that we’re talking about will offer some level of protection against the vehicle landing on top of the individual and crushing them.”

Levak says quadbikes have a naturally high centre of gravity and, combined with undulating surfaces and hilly terrain the vehicles are typically operated on, it’s quite easy to topple over. Although, he adds that operator negligence or complacency is an area that needs further identification and resolution.

“Another factor [that could and has caused ATV-related fatalities] is young children being allowed on farm vehicles when, probably, they shouldn’t be,” he said.

“There’s also a degree of whether a lack of experience is adding to the issue. I think it’d be more a lack of risk awareness in those instances, but also, when we talk about the incident with the Queensland fatality recently, that was surrounding a farmer with many years’ experience operating the equipment.

“So whether or not there’s a degree of complacency around risk, which is, I suppose, the other side of the spectrum to ATV fatalities – where the operator feels more confident than they perhaps may be – adds to the level of risk.”

Quadbike use in decline

Levak mentions that quadbike use is actually going down, and ‘side-by-side’ ATV use is increasing due to their already built-in rollover protection. However, he argues that quadbike ATVs are a versatile workhorse, despite the need for safety upgrades.

“Firstly, we have noticed the amount of quadbikes being used in the industry is decreasing, but quadbikes have been, and are being, used for a multitude of tasks in the vineyard,” he said.

“I grew up on a vineyard and I can recall as early as ‘84/’85, that quadbikes had spray put on the back of them to assist with spraying weeds in and around vines, which is one of the tasks that still gets undertaken using quadbikes.

“But in addition to that, they would also be used because vineyards are quite large in size. If you needed to go out and check irrigation drip lines, then a quadbike could be used to save time, as they are easier to get on and off of than some other vehicle types.”

In the period from 2011-2018, there were 128 total deaths in ATV-related incidents, none of which reported any mention of the vehicle having rollover protection, according to Safe Work Australia.

More than one third (38%) of quadbike fatalities in that time occurred on inclined terrain, and over half (55%) of those 128 fatalities occurred on uneven ground.

Since 2018, a further 22 cases of quadbike-related fatalities have been reported to the ACCC, bringing the total death toll to 150.

Support for measures growing Levak says the overall support for this new safety legislation is increasing, but adds that immediate change is something the industry is perhaps not so accustomed to.

“So there are two factors that may result in why the changes in legislation will be viewed negatively by manufacturers,” he said.

“I think change is always something that people resist and I also understand that the manufacturers need to consider there being extra costs imposed with making the additional requirements and changes [to their products].

“The new safety standards apply to new ATV purchases and, I believe, they also apply to second-hand purchases,” he continued.

“So it’s not asking quad bikes that exist in the workplace to be retrofitted with rollover protection as legislation currently stands, but that might occur.

“So the impact is really only where people have the money to afford to purchase new or fairly new second-hand equipment, and its impact on the industry should be seen as a positive one because the bigger picture here is ‘how do you quantify a person’s life?’

“That’s what this new legislation is intended to do: protect life, knowing that quadbikes do feature heavily in fatality statistics in the agricultural sector.”

He adds the fiscal cost of adding rollover protection to new or recent second-hand ATVs is relatively low, in comparison to what the protection will be doing.

“My understanding was that you get referred fitting for certain types of rollover protection on quadbikes which would cost around $300-$400, which is really only a small price to pay when we’re talking about saving a person’s life.”

This article was originally published in the April 2021 issue of the Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker. To find out more about our monthly magazine, or to subscribe, click here!

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