Quad bikes 'farmer's best friend and their worst enemy'

By Heather McCracken, Teuila Fuatai

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Researching roll-over protection devices for quad bikes and making helmet use mandatory are two recommendations from a coroner following an inquiry into five farming deaths on quad bikes.

The findings from the two-day April inquiry, before Coroner Brandt Shortland, were released this morning.

In all five deaths, the use of an after-market spray unit or trailer attached to the bike was a factor. Two of the farmers had also been using cannabis, which could not be ruled out as a factor, Coroner Shortland found.

His recommendations included:

* dropping of the term "all-terrain vehicle'' and using quad bikes to refer to the vehicle

* endorsing the message from industry leaders that helmets should be mandatory

* ongoing research into training and education around quad bike use, including how to make training as accessible as possible

* supporting a taskforce to perform research into roll-over protection devices, that may help protect the driver if a quad bike rolls.

Farmers were also advised to consider carrying a personal alarm, as many of the victims were trapped under their bikes for some time before succumbing to their injuries.

The coroner said quad bikes were "a farmer's best friend and their worst enemy''.

Safety was seriously compromised when bikes were used beyond their capability, and they were prone to rolling and tipping in a range of circumstances.

There was a "Mexican stand-off'' between competing factions over the need for roll-over or crush protection devices, with manufacturers arguing they made bikes unstable, but academics and engineers saying they improved safety.

In response to Coroner Shortland's recommendations, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have proposed an industry forum discussing ways to reduce deaths and injuries on the vehicles.

According to ministry figures, on average, five people die and 850 are injured on quad bikes each year.

"In the New Year the Ministry will be calling together all the parties involved with quad bikes - manufacturers, farming leaders, community leaders, trainers and the regulator - to work through how these recommendations could be implemented,'' the ministry's general manager health and safety operation Ona de Rooy said.

"The forum will also consider what other actions could be taken to reduce the deaths and injuries from inappropriate quad bike use.''

Federated Farmers, which have previously spoken out against criticisms of the agricultural sector for quad bike deaths and injuries, said they would take part in the forum if invited to and also supported recommendations made by Coroner Shortland.

National board member Jeanette Maxwell said Federated Farmers had been working with their members for more than a year about quad bike safety.

Guidelines distributed to members emphasised any attachments and extra objects on quad bikes needed to be taken into account by the rider, she said.

"We look at the whole thing. For a lot of the time, even if you're just riding it, you might have a dog on the back.

"Anyone on a quad bike needed to think about: The job you're going to do, what you're using, when you're going to do it [and] maintenance,'' Mrs Maxwell said.

The five quad bike deaths:

Carlos Frederick Mendoza, 52, died on his Dargaville farm between 14 and 16 September 2010, of positional asphyxia by having his body forced into an awkward position by the bike. Mr Mendoza wasn't wearing a helmet, had a rear-mounted spray unit on the back of the bike, and had traces of cannabis in his system at levels suggesting he may have been affected by the drug. Poor bike maintenance, including low tyre pressure, and the effect of the fluid in the spray unit, contributed to the roll-over.

Grant Charles Cornelius, 53, died on his Dairy Flat farm on September 5, 2011, of positional/traumatic asphyxia after being crushed under the bike. He had cannabis in his system, equivalent to smoking a single cannabis cigarette about three hours prior to death, and was likely to have been affected by the drug. Evidence showed was using the drug to relieve back pain. Inconsistent tyre pressure and the weight of a rear-mounted spray unit were also factors in the death.

John Roderick McInnes, 64, died on his Hikurangi farm on September 25, 2010, of mechanical asphyxia. He had a spray unit mounted on the bike, and had been spraying a steep paddock when he was found face-down, with the bike on top of him. He was thought to have gotten off the bike to try to steady it, and lost his footing and been crushed. The steep, uneven surface contributed to the instability of the bike.

Suzanne Claudia Ferguson, 62, died on her Kaikohe farm on August 9, 2010, of mechanical asphyxia. She had been feeding out silage from a trailer attached to a quad bike, and was found pinned by the bike against an electric fence. The bike appeared to have lost traction while going up a steep hill.

Willem Lambertus van der Pasch, 57, died on his Otorohanga farm on September 2, 2011, of a head injury. He had been towing a trailer loaded with hay, and was found trapped under the upturned bike. He was not wearing a helmet, which could have reduced the head injury. The coroner found a moment of inattention may have led to him suddenly over-correcting and tipping the bike. The load on the trailer may have contributed.


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