Safety first

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 10:16 22/11/2012
tdn farm stand
ANDY JACKSON
Get it on: Kieran Green (farmer), Jo-Ann Dugh (Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment).

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Central Taranaki farmer Bronwyn Muir is on a mission to change farmers' attitudes to quad-bike safety.

Backed by Taranaki Federated Farmers, she has convened a group focused on raising the awareness of quad bikes and all areas of farm health and safety.

The working party of retailers, ACC, training and safety organisations and insurance companies will devise an action plan aimed at changing farmers' behaviour and attitude to safety.

On board is Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment New Plymouth service manager Jo-Anne Pugh, who wants to see a culture change on the country's farms.

On almost every one of 140 visits to Taranaki farms by ministry staff since the Department of Labour instituted a quad-bike safety campaign two years ago, farmers received notices for non-compliance with safety rules, mostly for failing to wear helmets.

Every year, five people die and 850 are injured riding quad bikes on the country's farms.

Two died on quad bikes in Taranaki in 2009 and 84 people have been seriously injured in the central region, which includes Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Manawatu and Hawkes' Bay, since 2009.

Pugh is thrilled with Taranaki Federated Farmers' unique farm safety stance which, she says, is likely to be adopted elsewhere.

She said farming was a hazardous occupation, not a lifestyle.

"It's a business and there are rules that must be observed. The ministry alone can't change the culture of farming."

While farmers she talked to said they supported the quad bike safety campaign, their on-farm behaviour did not always align with their statements. "They agree with you, but when you walk away, they do something else."

Muir, who owns a beef and sheep farm at Mangamingi and an Eltham dairy farm in partnership with husband Phill, says more buy-in is needed from farmers to achieve the target of reducing quad-bike accidents by 30 per cent.

"As farmers, we don't go about our daily work intending to hurt ourselves, or worse," she said.

But accidents happened and the statistics echoed farmers' high quad- bike use.

The "she'll be right" culture of farmers reflected their attitude to regulations imposed on commercial enterprises. They tended to have a casual "it won't happen to me" attitude to carrying passengers and to children riding on adults' bikes, and regarded helmets, if they wore them, as a necessary evil.

Farmers were individualists who disliked being told what to do on their own properties and didn't understand the need to change what they had done for years.

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Pugh said the numbers 30 and five often cropped up in conversations with farmers who didn't want to change their behaviour for tasks that took only five minutes and that they had done a particular way for 30 years.

Muir said a culture change would happen only if messages from manufacturers, retailers and service organisations about farm safety, quad-bike safety and training were consistent.

Former diesel mechanic and Oakura dairy farmer Kieran Green said farm safety would not improve until farmers changed their attitude.

Their approach to safety was far more casual than he had experienced in mechanics' workshops.

The longtime trail bike rider said while quad bikes were fun to ride, they were also unpredictable. "Even on a small slope, quad bikes lose stability. Riding them is all about transferring your bodyweight."

A lot of training was needed to ride them proficiently, but people tended to be blase about the danger they presented.

He had heard of farmers riding over humps and hollows on their farm in the dark at 5am using a spotlight to look for a cow in a gully.

Muir said research showed quad bikes were not maintained properly, perhaps because of the cost and because warrants of fitness were not compulsory.

Green suggested farmers could undertake a course to learn basic maintenance.

His father, Gary Green, also an experienced trail rider, said quad bikes were terrible to ride and children should never be allowed near them.

He had tried off-road riding on a quad bike and even the best ones were unable to negotiate obstacle courses. Designed primarily for recreation, they were not really suitable for use on farms.

Pugh said they were unstable and tipped very easily. While add-ons, such as crates, made farmers' jobs easier, they also altered the bikes' balance. A small alteration in tyre pressures affected the steering, yet few, if any, farmers checked them.

Research showed 86 per cent of quad-bike accidents occurred when something was being towed.

"Towing is a huge risk factor. Obviously, the right vehicle is not being used for the job."

PKE trailers were even marketed for towing behind bikes, even though they could be three times the recommended weight once loaded.

"Many farmers don't realise this is unsafe and can cause serious faults in the bikes."

Farmers should tow such trailers with a ute or other suitable vehicle, she said.

THE MESSAGE

The ministry's campaign has four key messages:

Riders must be trained and experienced.

Choose the right vehicle for the job.

Always wear a helmet.

Don't let children ride adults' quad bikes.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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