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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

No more quads

Two years on, MIKE MASSAAR reviews the outcome of his organisation’s simple but momentous decision to completely replace quad bikes with light utility vehicles.

With names like Quadrunner, Quadracer, and Quadzilla, there was just one thing in the minds of manufacturers in the early days of the four wheeler quad bike – speed and performance. They were mostly intended as a high performance recreation/sports bike, and not meant as a workhorse.

However over time it would be fair to say they developed into a workhorse, with utility models built and machines becoming more powerful, but with no or minimal safety features. For the most part they were still being used outside their design specifications.

Early in 2015 the Department of Conservation made the decision to phase quad bikes out and replace them with light utility vehicles (LUVs). By early 2016 this was achieved. As explained in an earlier edition – issue 157, May/June 2016 – the decision made by the senior leadership team was not a difficult one. We could see what was happening outside of the Department, particularly in the farming industry, and it was only a matter of time before there was a fatality in DOC.

No matter what we did in terms of training and competence, education, procurement, procedures and so on, our quad bike incident rates remained way too high. Many of these could have resulted in a fatality and it was pure luck this didn’t occur. We knew one day our luck would run out. A simple risk assessment process made the senior leadership team decision equally simple.

It’s one thing to eliminate risk, but another to decide how we could replace the bikes. Quads were a workhorse for us, no doubt about it. But LUVs are a safer vehicle – they come with inherent safety features that quad bikes do not.

The small team that undertook the risk assessment included manager and worker representation. As expected, however, there was pushback from some quarters. Emails abounded, the common theme being: “How could we possibly get rid of these wonderful machines, we will never be able to carry out our work effectively.” We didn’t win over everyone at that time, but the decision was made with the safety of our workers foremost in our minds. There was no going back on this.

Another team was put together to select the type of LUV we wanted. We were looking for robustness with good service backup. Also considered were aspects such as wheelbase, power, seating capacity, and of course safety features. Because DOC is diverse from one region to another, in the end it was decided to offer a range of five LUVs to choose from, each with slightly different specs.

The transition has gone for the most part smoothly. Our 160 quad bikes were replaced with 96 LUVs, a sizeable reduction. Operationally, the main issue has been the width of the LUVs, which in some places could not cross some of the bridges or tracks that were designed around quad bikes. But we knew this beforehand. On the Heaphy track there is a project under way to modify bridges for LUV use. The Department is also trialling the use of electric bikes, which can get into places that not even quad bikes could.

Workers in DOC have accepted the decision and moved on. Many are now converts to LUV use. Here’s feedback from a staff member in the Chatham Islands: “The new LUVs in all their various sizes have proven to be more than adequate for all the work we do and have allowed for improved safety and efficiencies. With the Pioneer 500 two people can easily work together and carry all their gear on the one machine, without the need to load two ATVs on a big trailer or take an ATV trailer along as well. Being able to fit a windscreen and covered doors makes winter days checking fence lines on Pitt a little more bearable and thanks to the neat deck I can easily carry all the tools I might need in a day with me.”

There have been no detrimental effects on operations overall, and we have adjusted well to life after quads. Now that we are removed from the great quad bike debate we can look at what others are doing, or not doing as the case may be. Employers have a duty to reduce risk to workers. Research has demonstrated that quads are not a safe option for work, and the level of accidents and fatalities has proved this.

What we have found, and this would apply to any employer, is that you can do without the things you thought were absolute must-haves. Quad bikes were thought to be essential, but as we have found, they are not. There are other less risky ways of doing the work. It’s mind over matter really. DOC is a relatively large organisation, between 1700 and 2500 employees depending on time of year, and covers 30% of New Zealand. What seemed like a difficult decision was probably one of the simplest the leadership team has made.

Mike Massaar is safety and wellbeing manager with the Department of Conservation.

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