Friday, 6 February 2015

Quad Bike Safety

Farms are dangerous workplaces, quite obviously. You'd be way safer working in an office or shop or call centre. Still, danger does lurk pretty much everywhere: you could easily get bowled just crossing the road.

Back to farming though. We could drastically reduce the risk of injury or death in farming by adopting the factory model for everything. We already torture chickens & pigs this way and people still buy the eggs and meat, so its a proven model. There are a couple of downsides though:

  1. some people care about animal welfare and dislike the idea of factory farming
  2. we happen to be pretty good at pasture-based farming: its a comparative advantage.

So lets assume we stick with the system that our customers want and we are good at. How do we make it safer?

The official experts in this area are WorkSafe, a division of MBIE, whose governing laws are so broad they could easily force pedestrians to wear body armour. But that'd be crazy, right? It would also make people wonder if perhaps the law is mad. Can't do that. So lets pick on the most dangerous jobs and try to make them safer.

This is presumably the thinking that led the good people at WorkSafe decide that quad bike helmets would be compulsory. An alternative would have been to make roll bars compulsory - which they could easily have done. I was intrigued by the choice, so I requested information from WorkSafe. Here's what I found.

On average there are 17 deaths per year in agricultural workplaces and 5 of them involve a quad bike. Here are the causes of those quad bike deaths.

This is about what I expected. Mostly people get crushed in ways that helmets would not prevent but roll bars might. Helmets would help in 15% of cases. The picture is broadly the same if we look at injuries. WorkSafe reported that around 10% of the recorded injuries involved the head or face. 

The helmet campaign has been pursued with vigour and resulted in some astonishing fines. Farm workers are an easy target and a culture has developed in which people questioning the whole plan get shouted down and accused of not caring about safety. 

While this probably makes WorkSafe staff feel happy & productive, I think it alienates farmers and detracts from the overall safety message. The chart above is only confirmation of what we all pretty much knew anyway.  

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