The safe operation of all terrain vehicles (ATVs) has long been a concern of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which notes that there were 12 deaths associated with their use between the years 2008 and 2017.

According to Pat Griffin, a senior Inspector with the HSA, these deaths would have very likely been avoided if the victims had undergone proper training and helmets had been worn.

It is these two shortcomings which the latest legislation from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, of which the HSA is part, is intended to address.

Drafted as an amendment to the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 to 2021, this brief update introduces two major new requirements for all operators of quads.

The first is that they will need to complete “an all-terrain vehicle safety training course provided by a registered training provider to a QQI (Quality and Qualifications Ireland) standard or equivalent”.

The second concerns the wearing of a protective helmet, although this is a requirement around which there is some ambiguity.

Defining a quad

While the legislation refers to ATVs in the text, it does define the vehicles covered as having four wheels and being intended to travel off road on low pressure tyres.

To distinguish them from side by side UTVs, it goes on to say that they have “a seat designed to be straddled by the rider and handlebars for steering”.

quad saddle astride safety
A typical farm quad is easy to drive but can be a challenge away from the hard level surface of a yard.

Having pinned down the exact type of vehicle involved as a quad, it is also important to note that the legislation covers all operators in all work based situations, thus it embraces utility companies and public services as well as farmers.

Training requirements for safe operation

Training is to be delivered through registered companies or individuals who are able to deliver the appropriate course up to the standards set by QQI.

The content of these courses was set during meetings between the HSA and QQI with the syllabus looking at a variety of aspects of quad use from route planning to the safe negotiation of uneven terrain.

safety quad traing knowledge controls
Gaining knowledge and understanding of the controls is an essential element of the trianing

It is envisaged that courses will be of one day duration concluding with the satisfactory completion of a practical exercise before a certificate is awarded.

A brief internet survey of what is already available shows a variety of courses teaching a variety of skills.

The introduction of a universal QQI programme will create a national standard which may be easily modified to cater for changing circumstances.

Common factors leading to accidents

One common denominator that emerged in analysing the 12 tragedies leading to this legislation is age.

75% of those those involved were 60 or older and Pat Griffin suggests that although jumping on and driving a quad is an easy task, handling it in a safe manner in adverse conditions can be hard work.

Having the manual dexterity to move around the machine is essential. He points out that the large saddle found on quads is not to carry passengers but to enable the operator to shift their weight around, and so keep the quad balanced on slopes.

It would be advisable, he believes, for the less sprightly to consider using an inherently more stable side by side UTV rather than quad for getting about the farm.

UTV side by side farm
Side by side UTVs are inherently more stable than quads and offer greater roll over protection in accidents

Another frequent cause of accidents are ruts and and other hidden obstructions. Tractor traffic over soft ground can cause deep troughs quite capable of turning a quad over if encountered at too high a speed or the wrong angle, especially if concealed by fresh growth.

Route planning and risk assessment are therefore essential elements of any course leading to the QQI certificate, in addition to expected items such as daily checks and tackling gradients.

Helmets for safety

The second object of the new legislation is to ensure that suitable head protection is worn by quad operators while engaged at work.

This raises the question of exactly what constitutes an appropriate helmet. The wording of the amendment is not particularly helpful on this front; it simply states the operator must wear:

“A protective helmet recommended by the all-terrain vehicle manufacturer, or designed for use with all-terrain vehicles in compliance with relevant European Community directives.”

Which would appear to be a strong indication that standards for ATV helmets have been set and such items will carry a label confirming they qualify as appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Unfortunately, the actual situation is not quite so clear cut and currently there is no definitive set of standards for helmets intended for use by quad riders when engaged in work rather than recreation.

That is not to say that the HSA is not keen to see such recommendations be made and it is pushing for this rather ambiguous area of the legislation to be delineated more precisely.

The head protection puzzle

One feature that the legislation does insist on is that any helmet being used while riding a quad is to “have a chin strap and to be capable of use with suitable eye protection”.

In the meantime, Pat Griffin notes that the actual task being undertaken on the quad will influence the form that safety headgear takes.

He appreciates that motor cycle helmets are cumbersome and do not always lend themselves to farm operations. The ability to use a mobile phone, for instance, may be severely curtailed unless the helmet is removed first.

safe Logic hemet
Logic is one company that supplies helmets to keep quad operator safes in off road situations

Bicycle helmets may be a little too lightweight, although he concedes that some are sturdier than others. Yet where there is use of the quad on paved roads, a motorcycle helmet is definitely the better option as speeds are likely to be higher.

It is this uncertainty which probably informs the fallback position of the department in suggesting that the operator follows the advice of the quad manufacturers, although quite how they are to arrive at any sort of recommendation is not discussed.

The UK position

The British Health and Safety Executive offers a little more guidance, stating:

“Helmet types suitable for ATV operations, depending on the circumstances, are motorcycle helmets, equestrian helmets, specialist ATV helmets, cycle helmets and mountaineering helmets.”

This is obviously an area which would benefit from a greater degree of clarity if it is not to become a quagmire of ambivalence and evasion of regulations intended to keep operators safe.

In the meantime, the new law does not require farmers to rush out and buy a motorcycle helmet as might be thought, only that the head protection has been recommended or designed for use with an ATV.

Breathing space

This legislation does not come into force until November 2023, allowing the training providers time to implement the new national syllabus, which may differ from that which they already offer.

It may also allow time for a EU-wide standard for quad helmets to be drawn up, although it must be noted that should side by side ATVs come to dominate the market, then the expense of configuring such standards may well be perceived as lacking sufficient benefit to be viable.