AGRICULTURE accounts for only about 14 per cent of the estimated 380,000 quad bikes being used in Australia but the sector is responsible for a disproportionately higher rate of deaths and injuries.
And as serious concerns remain about on-farm dangers, the number of quad bikes sold and used on-farms is expected to grow faster than it will for any other segment of the $230 million Australian market in coming years, a new report says.
Today, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) released an issues paper on quad bike usage, as part of fresh moves by the federal Coalition government, driven through Small Business Minister Michael McCormack, to try to implement reforms to enhance safety standards.
The ACCC paper says quad bikes - also known as all-terrain vehicles or ATVs - have been responsible for 114 deaths in Australia from 2011 to October 2017.
“Approximately half of the deaths occurred in the context of employment or work (47pc), with the other half (50pc) occurring during sport or recreational activities - there are a small number of deaths where the context is unknown,” the paper said.
“The 54 workers who died were almost exclusively employed in agriculture or rural based businesses and mostly occurred on a rural property.
“Similarly, many of the non-working deaths also occurred on rural properties.
“Other locations included public roads and beaches.”
The paper also said 55pc of all deaths associated with quad bikes resulted from a rollover or the ATV over-turning, with about 90pc of that fatal category occurring on-farms.
“There is no central repository of injury data in Australia and so the ACCC has obtained data from a range of sources available to it,” the paper said.
“Australia-wide, the Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety Queensland reported that from 2003-2011 almost 8000 patients were admitted to hospital for quad bike related injuries
“The average length of stay for children was 2.5 days and the average length of stay for adults was 3.4 days.
“15pc of child admissions and 25pc of adult admissions were classified as ‘serious’.
“Of the recreational injuries that occurred in 1999-2013, the most common place of injury was a farm - 46pc of children and 40pc of adult injuries.”
The ACCC paper said the global quad bike market was valued at about $7.8 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow to $11.3b by 2024, with the Australian market comprising about 3pc (valued at $231.4m in 2015) and forecast to hit $400.1m by 2024.
“While the Australian market represents a relatively small share of the global market, it is growing at a higher rate than the global market,” the paper said.
“Sales of quad bikes for use in agriculture are expected to grow faster than for any other segment of the Australian market.”
The ACCC’s Quad Bike Safety Taskforce is seeking feedback from stakeholders including manufacturers, dealers, workplace safety experts, researchers, farmers and quad bike users on potential reforms to improve standards.
A draft recommendation is due to be handed to the federal government early next year, with a final version set for release in mid-2018.
ACCC Commissioner Mick Keogh who heads up the competition watch-dog’s Agricultural Engagement and Enforcement Unit said, “tragically” 114 people had been killed in quad bike accidents in Australia since 2011 which was prompting his agency to investigate possible options to improve safety and prevent further deaths and injuries.
Mr Keogh said a key question underpinning the process was whether a safety standard should be introduced for quad bikes under the Australian Consumer Law.
Some of the core reform areas the ACCC examination is seeking feedback on includes; mandating specific design requirements and construction of quad bikes, including features that reduce the risk for children riding quad bikes designed for adults; introducing a safety rating system and pre-sale testing; and mandating safety warning information for consumers to access, when purchasing a new quad bike.
“The ACCC recognises that quad bikes are important vehicles for many Australians who rely on them for work on farms, or use them recreationally, which is why it is important for stakeholders to have their say," Mr Keogh said.
One of the critical questions asked by the issues paper is, if the ACCC recommends a mandatory safety standard for quad bikes, should it apply differently to quad bikes used for different purposes, like agriculture or sports and recreation.
The ACCC’s deadline for stakeholder submissions to the examination process is December 15, 2017.
In October, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash and Mr McCormack announced the establishment of the ACCC’s Quadbike Safety Taskforce.
Senator Cash said 10 quad bikes deaths this year alone, and a high number of injuries had necessitated close co-operation between governments to address quad bike safety “as an urgent priority”.
Mr McCormack said the ACCC Taskforce would also work with an interdepartmental government committee that’s been set-up to examine solutions to improve quad bike safety, including whether to introduce a product safety standard.
“My most important job as Minister Responsible for Consumer Affairs is to protect Australian consumers’ safety,” he said.
“As a country MP, I know how important quad bikes can be for work on the farm and how many people enjoy riding the bikes for fun too, so we need to find a solution where both practical and recreational riders can be confident and safe.
“The new ACCC taskforce will specifically look at whether the government should introduce a new product safety standard for quad bikes.
“This standard may include education materials and labelling for bikes and will consider issues such as power, weight and roll-over risk of bikes.
“This research and any recommendations will also feed into considerations of a wider safety rating system.”
The issues paper said 22,834 quad bikes were sold in Australia in 2016, with about 380,000 of them understood to be in operation.
In 2015, the Australian quad bike market by application comprised; sports $71.9m (29.4pc), entertainment $58.4m (23.9pc), agriculture, $35.3m (14.4pc), military and defence $18m (7.4pc), forestry $14.2m (5.8pc) and other $46.6m (19.1pc).
“Quad bikes are heavily utilised in Australian forestry and agricultural industries,” it said.
“In 2015 forestry and agriculture accounted for a total of 20.2pc of all quad bike sales in Australia.
“Farmers rely on quad bikes for weed spraying, mustering and to check stock and fences.
“For many farmers, quad bikes are affordable and indispensable equipment that are used almost every day.”