News & Press: NZVA news

A victory for common sense

Tuesday, 1 August 2017  
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VetScript Editor's pick - August

Veterinary and farming groups have welcomed WorkSafe’s decision to allow veterinarians to ride on the backs of single-seater quad bikes in certain circumstances. Jacqui Gibson reports.

Veterinarians can ride on the backs of single-seater quad bikes when there is no other way of getting to a sick or injured farm animal. That’s the take-home message from WorkSafe, the government regulator for workplace health and safety.

WorkSafe recently issued the advice after lengthy discussions with farm industry groups Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers and DairyNZ.

WorkSafe says being a passenger on a single-seater quad bike is a health and safety risk and should be avoided whenever possible. It should only take place after the driver and passenger carry out a risk assessment of the terrain, their skills and any other relevant risk factors.

Past president of the NZVA’s Sheep and Beef Society Anthony Oswald says the latest policy advice from WorkSafe is heartening for the NZVA’s 400 veterinarians who need to travel on the backs of quad bikes to do their jobs. Until now, it was unclear if the law allowed veterinarians to travel on single-seater quad bikes as passengers, he says.
“Finally, a bit of common sense has come to the fore. It’s good to see WorkSafe approach the issue with such an open mind – and I’d like to acknowledge the industry collaborators who helped make it happen.”

Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Federated Farmers and DairyNZ approached WorkSafe for policy clarification, as well as practical advice on how to implement the policy.

WorkSafe has since published two fact sheets. One fact sheet sets out when it is possible to travel on a singleseater quad bike as a passenger, while the other describes how to carry out a risk assessment. Beef + Lamb New Zealand Chief Executive Sam McIvor says he’s pleased with the outcome.

“Look, we know the farming industry has a poor record when it comes to on-farm injuries. Vehicles are a significant contributor to this and, as a subset, quad bike accidents are high. But for many farmers, using quad bikes and carrying passengers is a regular thing that’s carried out safely. I think WorkSafe has acknowledged this reality and is simply saying that carrying a passenger on the back of a single-seater quad bike must be the exception, not the rule.”

NZVA Head of Veterinary Services Callum Irvine says the NZVA Standards Committee has been asked previously whether the NZVA needs a nationwide quad bike policy for its membership.

“The new health and safety legislation, as well as the obvious risks, have made travelling on quad bikes an issue for many of our members,” he says. “Some veterinarians have raised concerns regarding the constraints imposed under the new law and whether the NZVA needs to develop specific advice regarding this.”

However, WorkSafe’s recent policy advice seems an eminently sensible solution and probably gives veterinarians all the direction they need, adds Callum. “I’d suggest that practices familiarise themselves with the WorkSafe material. Use it to update your health and safety policies, to educate your teams and to help veterinarians make risk assessments. Risk assessment is something all veterinarians need to get their heads around,” he says.

Eltham District Veterinary Services veterinarian Alistair McDougall says that his practice recently developed a quad bike safety policy at the request of the board.

“Our veterinarians only need to accept a ride on the back of a bike about once a year, and mostly that’s on flat terrain, so we didn’t feel the need to enforce an outright ban of quad bike use like some practices have. Instead, we’ve acknowledged that our people will be quad bike passengers from time to time.

It’s our job as an employer to make sure they’re as safe as possible when they’re in that situation.”

He says his firm has issued approved quad bike safety helmets to the 11 veterinarians on his team, and employed a health and safety consultant to improve everyone’s knowledge and skills. Staff have taken part in driving skills training. They now use equipment such as bungy cords to lash down equipment as an alternative to holding it while travelling. And they have attended a lunchtime workshop to discuss quad bike issues and learn new ways to keep themselves safe as quad bike passengers.

Today, the firm’s newsletter features regular reminders about quad bike safety. And everyone is urged to practise the company policy of taking a few minutes to assess the risks of the situation before jumping on the back of a quad bike.

“As a veterinarian, you face more risk of being injured by an animal than a quad bike. But it’s still a risk, and all risks need to be taken into account. As a practice, we say to our people: stop, take a breath, reflect. If you don’t feel good about the situation, you can say no. You’ve got our full support.”