Andrew Fleming felt the sledgehammer-like blow that broke his back, but was unable to protect himself at all as he tumbled down the slope with his quad bike.

"I fell like a rag doll," the Taranaki farmer recalls. "It felt like I had been broken in half."

When he finally came to rest, his legs dangled lifeless below him, his L1 vertebrae shattered.

A shortcut back to the farmhouse up a steep spur had turned his whole life on its head.

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"It was agony to move. It was 10.15am and I realised no one would come looking for me. My wife was at a seminar all day. I knew rain was on the way and that if I got wet I would probably die of hypothermia. I started to panic - it seemed impossible to get out of this situation."

When he calmed down a bit, he could hear the cooling fan on his quad bike, but couldn't see the bike. He decided to roll sideways towards the sound of the bike, to possibly use it to get to safety.

After six agonising rolls, with long breaks between to recover from the excruciating pain, Andrew's positivism was dashed. The quad bike was straddling the fence - it was no use to him.

He says his heart sank, but he found something else to shore up his resolve.

He could see his neighbour's cows in a paddock across the river. He would be okay once the farmer came to collect them for milking, usually about 3pm.

"I just had to stay conscious. It was 4.30pm when he finally came to get them - he had been held up in town. He heard my dogs barking up a storm. That was six hours after the accident, and it was another hour before the Westpac rescue helicopter arrived."

That was in 2000, and Andrew is now a sought-after motivational speaker and author of Change the Channel, his inspirational story about the incident and how he fought back.

He has rekindled his passion for snow skiing using a special ski-mounted chair, but he has lost the farm and his wife.

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Andrew Fleming Sit has rekindled his passion for skiing.
Andrew Fleming Sit has rekindled his passion for skiing.

On-farm quad bike incidents (not all can be classed as accidents) continue to worry Federated Farmers. Its health and safety spokeswoman, and board member, Katie Milne, says part of the issue is that the manufacturers claim the quad bikes are not intended for use on farms.

"Kiwis saw them as marvellous workhorses for the farm, but they have got to be used wisely and correctly. Don't push yourself, or the quad bike, beyond what it is designed to do."

She says shifting the centre of gravity by overloading or fitting extra equipment such as spray tanks can alter the characteristics of the quad bikes dramatically.

Federated Farmers is talking with ACC and WorkSafe about rollover protection, and is trying to source research specific to New Zealand.

"We have to change the way some of this stuff is reported," she says, "because there is a lot of under-reporting of health and safety incidents. Perhaps we could have a general IT site where farmers can report all sorts of near misses without fear of reprisal."

Until then, Federated Farmers would try to get realistic information out to farmers, she says, particularly solutions.

An innovative solution

Pablo Mackinnon demonstrates one of the automatic stabiliser arms.
Pablo Mackinnon demonstrates one of the automatic stabiliser arms.

After a frightening fall from his own quad bike, Putaruru dairy farm contractor Pablo Mackinnon decided something had to be done to make the vehicles safer for on-farm use.

"I was out in the dark using the lights on the quad bike to locate cows for milking, and stopped on the edge of a bank to see if any were below. Next thing, the bike had tipped over and was rolling down the hill. I didn't have time to do anything."

When everything came to rest, Pablo had a badly bruised ankle, but realised it could just have easily been his head that took the impact. He had to limp painfully back behind the cows to the milking shed, and finish the milking process.

"I took my gumboot off because of the swelling - otherwise I'd have had to cut it off later."

He says he often has ideas that could make things different, and typically never gets around to doing anything. But this time he was keenly aware of what might have been; the injuries, death and disruption to family.

Pablo arrived in New Zealand with his wife and four children from Uruguay in 2004.

"I decided to make something that would prevent rolling, rather than try to minimise the damage. I got the basic design sorted out and then started working on it. But I'm a fulltime farmer and have little spare time after that and family life. And I'm not an engineer - I had to learn along the way."

Two years later, after a lot of design work and testing on the prototype, Pablo took his idea to the innovation arena at the National Fieldays in June.

"I was surprised by how many people came up to me at the Fieldays and said they had had accidents on quad bikes. The feedback was very positive, which was the main reason we went there."

His idea also caught the eye of Callaghan Innovation, and he now knows he has access to the right testing facilities that will provide an official stamp once the idea is ready to take to market.

"I need to focus on the farm until the end of August, so I won't be doing anything on the project for a while. I now know grants are available, and it was great to get positive advice from experts."

Pablo's solution relies on a pendulum switch to activate steel stabilisers that shoot out from either side of the quad bike.

The instant the vehicle reaches tipping point, the pendulum completes an electrical circuit and the stabilisers kick in.

The spring-loaded stabilisers are assisted by gravity as well, and once deployed are locked into place automatically by a ratchet device.

He has fitted them unobtrusively onto a standard quad bike, and may make additional modifications to enable one to be installed at the back as well.