ATVs cannot be treated like a toy on the work site

Comprehensive training should cover safe driving techniques, emergency preparedness and respecting the machine

ATVs cannot be treated like a toy on the work site

Andrea Crittenden is troubled by the many fatalities and serious injuries that occur on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) every year. She is frustrated by riders not wearing helmets, ignoring safety procedures and driving beyond their abilities. After one of her young family members suffered a traumatic fatal incident while riding an ATV, Crittenden decided to take matters into her own hands.

“When it hits that close to home, it really makes an impact,” says Crittenden, president and CEO of Sixteen Safety Services in Saskatoon, a provider of ATV training. “It gives me even more drive to spread that safety message because you can get yourself into a whole lot of hot water very quickly when it comes to ATVs.”

A CBC News investigation counted 178 deaths on ATVs and snowmobiles from 2012-18 in Atlantic Canada. In Alberta, 185 people died in quad-related incidents between 2002 and 2013.

According to the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute, ATV-related injuries are currently the second leading cause of summer sport and recreation injuries in Canada. More than 3,000 people were hospitalized with ATV-related injuries across the country from 2009 to 2010, not including emergency room visits and fatal injuries. Head injuries occur in one-quarter of all ATV-related hospitalizations, with the average length of hospital stay being more than five days.

“Most of it is not really using common sense,” says Jim McGregor, chief instructor at the New Brunswick All Terrain Vehicle Federation in Hanwell, N.B., just south of Fredericton. “People will see the machine as a toy… but they’re not. It is a piece of equipment.”

The majority of incidents are caused by unsafe practices that result in loss of control, rollover or collision, he says. This can be caused by users being impaired, showboating, driving beyond their abilities, not realizing the capabilities of the machine or being inexperienced, says Crittenden, who worked as a safety manager for many years before opening her own business.

While the majority of incidents on ATVs occur when they are being used for recreational purposes, workplace ATV incidents occur as well. Due to their ability to reach areas that road vehicles simply cannot, many industries use ATVs, including oil and gas, agriculture, municipalities, utilities, law enforcement, mining, environmental monitoring, construction, search and rescue, forestry, military and border security.

Employers have to be extra vigilant around ATV safety in order to be in compliance with safety laws.

“It goes down right to the basics of supplying a safe and healthy workplace, so they need to provide them with the training to do their job safely. And with ATV operation it’s no different,” Crittenden says.

To reduce the risks, comprehensive training is key and all workers who will be operating an ATV should hold a valid training certificate or credential. Workers need to respect the machine, the laws and the environment they are operating in, says McGregor.

Training a worker to operate an ATV should really follow the same protocols as a worker being trained on any other piece of powered mobile equipment, whether that’s a forklift, a crane or a loader, says Jeff Shaw, prevention consultant with Safe Work Manitoba in Brandon, Man.

“Personally, I think there is a misconception out there that not as much training is required on an ATV because I think a lot of people often ride them for recreational proposes and there’s that assumption that they already know how to operate them,” he says. “That mindset has resulted in incidents that could have been easily prevented.”

There are a variety of training courses available that offer a mix of in-class teaching with practical, hands-on training. Crittenden’s course begins with an important message about safety preparedness.

“Expect the unexpected. You never know what could happen, especially in Saskatchewan (where) it has snowed in every month of the year,” she says. “You’re riding along the trail and all of a sudden the weather changes and so do the hazards.”

All training courses should cover the pre-use inspection, known in the industry as TCLOC, which stands for tires, wheels and brakes; controls, lights and electrical; oil and fluids; and chassis and suspension. (See sidebar for more.)

“If you check all that and everything is working, there’s a good chance you are going to come home from any job you left to go do,” says McGregor, adding any problems, no matter how small, must be fixed before the worker heads out for the job.

With tires, for example, the pressure needs to be checked to ensure it’s the same in all four — even one pound will make a difference. ATVs have big balloon tires designed for rough terrain, which adds to their instability. If the tire pressure is not equal, the machine will pull towards the soft tire. A small-scale gauge may be needed for ATV tires.

Fleet managers need to make sure their maintenance program takes into account the specific needs of their own ATVs and follow the inspection requirements outlined in the owner’s manual, such as 100-hour or 500-hour inspections. 

Workers should become familiar with the characteristics of the specific ATV they will be using for work. They need to learn basic operations and maneuvers, including how to stop, turn, throttle up, make tight turns, make big turns and reverse. The training should also cover safe riding techniques.

“When it comes to an ATV, it’s very risky. We talk about it being rider-active: The movement and weight shifting and maneuvering of the operator is directly proportional to the ease of use and the safe operation of that equipment,” Crittenden says.

For example, the driver must use their body when going up or down a slope (leaning forward or sliding back in the seat, respectively) and lean in to a turn.

“If you turn right but you’re learning left, that operator is now pulling that machine off its centre of balance and you run the risk of tipping,” she says. “Gravity is going to win.”

During ATV training, these techniques should be practised on a controlled obstacle course first before heading out on a trail. It’s important that the training reflect the different tasks, obstacles and conditions that workers may face on their particular job site.

“They might have to drive through a ravine, they may have to climb a steep incline, maneuver over fallen trees,” says Shaw. “If they don’t know what they’re doing, that’s when they might find themselves in hazardous situations.”

As job tasks change, so do the hazards and risks, meaning workers may need additional ATV training.

“Just because a worker has operated an ATV for years does not make them competent on the task or job they will be performing on it,” says Shaw. “For example, if they’re using an ATV to transport tools or equipment on a yard, that’s very different than mounting a spray tank on the back of an ATV to spray a roadside ditch.”

The training must include a module on loads — whether it be materials or a passenger (if the ATV model allows for one) — which drastically change the machine’s operating characteristics. The owner’s manual must be followed to determine what loads a particular ATV can handle.

“ATVs have a high centre of gravity. They are more susceptible to tipping over, so when you’re adding a load… that will raise the centre of gravity even more, resulting in increased risk of tip over or rollover,” says Shaw. “It’s a real game changer and a lot of people aren’t familiar with that. The ATV with this additional weight load handles very differently in all situations and unfortunately, some operators haven’t been provided a second chance.”

A lot of fatalities and injuries have occurred when an ATV is being loaded or unloaded from a truck box or trailer, says Crittenden, so workers need to be trained in this procedure as well. Proper ramps must be used with non-slip surfaces and they need to be well-secured. Head injuries often occur during this process, so the number 1 rule is to always wear a helmet.

“Most of the time people have already taken their helmets off because it’s the end of the day — or they haven’t jumped on them yet — and the ATV rolls and rolls on top of them and that’s the end of the story,” she says.

The truck or trailer needs to be inspected before it is used to transport the ATV to the work site. Safety chains, pins and locks should all be in place and in good condition, and tail lights should be working properly.

“You now are affecting many other people on the highways,” Crittenden says. “You need to inspect the trailer to make sure it’s going to make it from A to B, in a nutshell.”

It can also be useful for workers to get training on winching, in the event they get stuck. If they are working in remote areas, Crittenden says she can almost guarantee they will need a winch at some point, and they need to know how to use it properly.

“With that cable comes a lot of hazards like being in the line of fire, equipment failure, overloads and inexperience,” she says.

In her training program, individuals are taught the different methods and techniques for winching and are able to practice using different winches.

When operating an ATV, workers must follow all motor vehicle and traffic laws. Generally speaking, ATVs cannot operate on roadways, rather they can operate on the shoulder, if necessary, with appropriate slow-moving signage. All drivers must possess the required motor vehicle license as specified by their jurisdiction. In Manitoba, for example, an ATV driver must hold a Class 5 Intermediate stage license at a minimum. 

Emergencies can occur when workers are out on a trail. They should have extra supplies, fuel, oil, food, water and clothing as well as a basic tool kit, tire repair kit and first aid kit on hand. Having emergency preparedness kits, wildlife protection (such as bear spray), spill kit, shovel, axe, fire extinguisher and water pail is a good idea. 

They must have a way to communicate with their employer, whether that be a cellphone, satellite phone, two-way radio or GPS locator. If they are working alone, they may have a special lone worker device and they are required to check in regularly with their employer. A supervisor should always know where the worker is going, what route they are taking and how long they will be gone.

In June 2013, a Husky Energy employee was found dead beside his overturned ATV in Athabasca, Alta., four days after he reported into work. The individual was working alone to check oil well sites, but he did not check in as scheduled. Husky Energy deployed a search team and discovered him four days later. He was not wearing a helmet or a geo-locator. Husky pleaded guilty to section 394(1) of the Occupational Health & Safety Code and was fined $200,000 by the Government of Alberta. 

All ATV riders need to be trained on first aid, especially because the majority of ATV operations are in remote or isolated areas. In addition, a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan must be in place.

“A lot of employers think, ‘Well, they’ll just call 911.’ I, for one, have many clients who are in areas with no cellphone coverage — zero. I have even had clients where to get a satellite phone to have service is a challenge, so there is no phoning 911 to help you,” says Crittenden.

Having the right personal protective equipment is crucial before setting foot on an ATV. The most important piece is an approved helmet that fits properly.

“A lot of people don’t realize that helmets do expire, so check the expiry date and replace it if it has been in a crash or collision,” Shaw adds.

Workers also need eye protection, gloves, over-the-ankle boots, long-sleeve shirt and long-sleeve pants. Even in the summer, long pants are crucial to protect the rider from the ATV’s hot engine.

“Avoid wearing any loose clothing or anything protruding from your body that could get caught on things such as branches, twigs or entangled in the machine,” Shaw adds.

Crittenden recommends riders wear hi-vis gear so they are more visible to other motorists or to a helicopter in an emergency.

It’s important to note that all safety gear must be worn at all times, says McGregor, even if workers are just hopping on the ATV to go down the road.

If there is a near miss or an incident that occurs with an ATV at the workplace, it needs to be treated like any other — conducting an investigation, determining root causes, implementing corrective actions and communicating all of this to the workforce. Any near miss that occurs with an ATV will probably be considered a high potential, Crittenden says.

It’s important for employers to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to horsing around on ATVs and unsafe operations. In 2017, two members of the Ontario Provincial Police were charged and suspended due to an incident that occurred when they were off duty in 2011. The men were riding ATVs on a trail and collided with another ATV rider who had to be airlifted to a Toronto hospital. One of the officers was charged with dangerous driving.

Crittenden draws on her passion for ATV safety and her background in OHS to help spread the message about the importance of safe riding. As a mother of two young daughters, she instinctively takes her trainees under her wing and takes care of them like her own family.

“They now are going to go to work, they are going to jump on these machines, some of which until my training course have never seen or used or ran a piece of equipment like that, so it’s important to me to take that seriously,” she says. “Safety is a big thing for me and it’s something that in my heart, there is a true purpose to it.”



Pre-ride inspection

The pre-ride inspection takes place in two parts — before you turn on the ATV and when it’s running. Make sure to check everything covered in the owner’s manual.


With the ATV turned off, check:

• maintenance records to see if any recent problems or warnings are noted

• gas tank level

• oil level

• tire pressure on all four wheels and make sure there are no worn or cut patches

• tire stability by pulling on each one to see if there’s movement

• helmet condition (chinstrap, visor)

• first aid, emergency and tire repair kits

• footpegs and footplates for stability by pulling on them to see if there’s movement

• wheel bolts on each rim

• cables and lines for signs of wear or breaks.


With the ATV turned on, check that:

• lights come on

• handlebars turn all the way and that moving them does not affect the throttle

• brakes work smoothly when you move forward slowly and that they don’t pull to one side

• engine stops immediately and smoothly when the ignition is turned off.

Source: Safe Work Manitoba

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2019 issue of COS.