Children will be banned from using quad bikes under sweeping reforms to curb the alarming number of deaths on Australian farms.
The Gillard Government will announce plans for the national ban today, but will stop short of making helmet use compulsory or ordering manufacturers to install rollover bars.
The intervention follows a spate of horror incidents over the past two years, some involving children as young as four.
“We simply cannot sit by and watch people being killed and seriously injured by these vehicles,” Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said yesterday.
“This year alone we have seen 15 deaths and for these families the upcoming Christmas period will be terrible.”
Mr Shorten has ordered the government’s workplace safety agency, Safe Work Australia, to implement the ban in conjunction with state and territory regulators.
It will prevent all children under 16 years of age from operating an adult-sized quad bike in any workplace, including farms.
“This simple message is that kids and quad bikes of any size do not and should not mix,” Mr Shorten said. “Regrettably, it is all too often a fatal combination.”
Since the year 2000, about 170 regional properties have been the scene of quad bike fatalities, making the machines the leading cause of deaths on Australian farms.
Fifteen people have died this year. One was a five-year-old girl. The most recent death occurred last weekend, when a 47-year-old man failed to negotiate a steep section of track in Tasmania.
Last year, 23 people died. The youngest victim was four.
There are no uniform design standards for the 220,000 quad bikes in use across Australia. Helmet use is also not compulsory. Earlier this year, Mr Shorten threatened to regulate the design of all-terrain vehicles, including making crush protection devices a standard safety feature. About half of all quad bike fatalities are the result of a rollover.
But the government has backed away from that threat after some manufacturers indicated they may soften their longstanding opposition to rollover bars.
“We are keen to bring manufacturers along with us in this process and it is pleasing to see… some quad bike manufacturers are now playing a positive role in offering to fit crush protection devices as a safety feature,” Mr Shorten said.
Emily Cason, whose 11-year-old son, Sam, was killed after being thrown from a quad bike while staying at a friend’s property in Victoria last year, has spent the past year campaigning for safety changes. She urged regional Australians to embrace any attempt to reduce accidents.
“We know we can’t bring Sam back but we can help stop this happening to other families,” she said.
“We need to make people more aware of how dangerous they are for children because they are massive machines. I went to check one out after the accident to see how big it was and even I would struggle to control one I think.”
Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety director Tony Lawler said children accounted for about 20 per cent of all quad-bike deaths.
“In a workplace, people have to be deemed competent to use equipment and there is certainly much evidence children under the age of 16 aren’t appropriately sized to use a quad bike and don’t have the cognitive capacity to use it appropriately either,” he said.
Mr Lawler conceded the ban could be difficult to enforce.
“But that doesn’t mean having such a regulation is wrong and I’m sure the authorities will do what they can.”
It’s believed children will still be permitted to ride smaller quad bikes, which have been involved in the deaths of at least five Australian children.
Mr Shorten will also announce measures to improve how information on fatalities, injuries and near miss incidents is collected. Mr Shorten recently crush protection devices to be fitted to machines used by Commonwealth employees.