Farmers fall out of love with quads

FARM RIDE: Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment inspector Jo-Ann Pugh and Omata farmer Kieran Green discuss quad bike safety.
FARM RIDE: Minister of Business, Innovation and Employment inspector Jo-Ann Pugh and Omata farmer Kieran Green discuss quad bike safety.

At least six Taranaki farmers have stopped using quad bikes on their farms and others are weighing up alternatives before they make a decision.

The farmers have decided to do away with quads because they are not the best machines for the tasks they have to do, says OnFarmSafety director and Taranaki Federated Farmers vice- president Bronwyn Muir, of Eltham.

Her revelation follows news this month that government farmer Landcorp is not using quads on its new central North Island farms and is limiting their use elsewhere as it seeks a safer alternative.

Muir, the force behind a Taranaki Federated Farmers campaign to foster quad bike safety, and business partner Cushla Fevre established OnFarmSafety last month to help farmers create health and safety systems.

She said the Taranaki farmers who had chosen alternatives to quads had looked strategically at the best machine for the job in relation to practicality and health and safety.

"They're re-assessing their machinery and replacing older quad bikes with something that takes the risk out of the equation. They're questioning whether they need quads.

"Small, second-hand four-wheel- drive trucks are cheaper to run and still do the same job. And farmers can use two-wheelers or a small tractor to get around the farm."

She said farmers with young children were also realising that a closed-in vehicle in which they could fit car seats was both safer and warmer for their families.

Quad bikes were not suitable on hilly, steep farms, were dangerous for inexperienced riders, and were not designed to tow heavy loads like calf feeders or trailers carrying palm kernel expeller, Muir said. "That's a lot of weight, and it can throw a quad bike around."

But while some farmers were using alternatives to quads, others were retaining them.

"Removing them is not for every situation. A lot of farmers can't do without them."

Whatever farming system they used, farmers should assess whether their machinery was right for the tasks that had to be done, Muir said. Most were operating to best practice within the financial, environmental and climatic constraints they faced.

Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety chairman Rob Jager, of New Plymouth, who presented the taskforce's report to the Government last month, applauded the decisions by the Taranaki farmers and Landcorp.

"That's great. It hooks into much of what I've been saying - don't wait for the Government to impose rules. Act now."

Quad bikes exposed users to risk, he said. "The statistics don't lie."

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment data shows that on average each year 850 people are injured riding quad bikes on farms, and five die.

Jager said it was becoming apparent that some farmers considered the best way to manage the risk of quad bikes was to stop using them. "That's the kind of behaviour that I aspire everyone to adopt. It's about understanding the risk and managing it."

Such innovative decisions could persuade other farmers to change the way they managed their business, he said. They also had a duty of care to their staff.

"This is a positive and, some would say, brave step, and I'm very supportive."

Deciding to use alternatives to quads could create a snowball effect influencing other farmers to follow suit, he said.

"I'd like to think it's the start of a big change. Hopefully, farmers will be less uncomfortable about such decisions when they see others making them."

If nothing else, such moves would generate discussion among farmers about quad bike risk, he said. Manufacturers might even begin to look for ways to make quads safer if they lost market share to other farm vehicles.

Landcorp staff relations and training national manager Al McCone said everyone in the company was trained to use quad bikes, which were well maintained, and helmets were compulsory.

Despite that, since December there had been 20 accidents involving Landcorp quads, McCone said. At least three happened on gentle country in the middle of paddocks.

New farms about to be taken over by Landcorp would not have quad bikes, he said, and the company was restricting the use of quads for towing and weight carrying and on certain terrain. They were "not even worth one more death".

McCone said the decision to restrict quad use was made long before the taskforce reported to the Government.

Landcorp, with 400 quads on 120 farms, had been studying their safety and utility since late 2010, McCone said.

"Our current policy is to make sure the vehicle mix on each farm is the one best suited for the terrain, climate and type of farming conducted, and that the vehicles are used within their design limits."

Noting that quad bikes were designed for recreation, he said they had performed a valuable role on New Zealand farms but were unsuitable as fulltime agricultural working vehicles, and unforgiving of rider error.

McCone said Landcorp's decision to limit the use of quads to situations they were designed for, ensuring riders were trained, and enforcing the use of safety equipment would reduce injuries and fatalities. "As a responsible employer, we are obligated to take this course of action, and we would hope all other employers would see it in the same light."

He said the reaction to Landcorp's decision had ranged from wildly supportive to vehemently opposed. "Some of the opinion on both sides is well informed, and some more dependent on emotion than fact. We are glad we have contributed to further enlarging the debate."

Taranaki Daily News