In recent years there have been numerous high-profile incidents in professional cycling that have endangered the lives of cyclists, fellow competitors, and spectators in both the track and road disciplines. Yet despite these events, there has been little research conducted to ascertain why, and how things can be enhanced to improve safety.
To illuminate this area, safety culture theory was applied to the now infamous incident at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games when the Australian cyclist Alex Porter’s handlebars snapped during the team pursuit, sending him tumbling to the track.
The results of the first-of-its-kind study, which has been published in Safety Science, show that safety considerations were not embedded within decision-making across the AusCycling organisation, with distinct parallels between it and high-profile failures in other industries, such as the oil and gas industry.
Notably, the study found that a lack of adherence to rules (including the ISO test protocols that require the conducting of an extra 150,000 fatigue cycles that weren’t completed), concerning management safety attitudes at AusCycling, and the existence of light-touch regulation from the UCI all contributed to the problem. As a result, there is a need for immediate improvement at a governing level.
The paper also notes how other sports such as Formula 1 (F1) have learnt from safety incidents, subsequently implementing safety standards, such as the Halo crash-protection system, which was introduced by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) in 2018 and has since been praised as one of the sport’s greatest innovations.
In contrast to the FIA, which created the FIA Institute in 2004 to enhance the development of new and improved safety technologies, the study also says that the UCI makes no mention of safety in either its corporate values statement, mission statement, or vision statement, and there is no comparable Director of Safety role at board level. Furthermore, none of the UCI ‘Management Committee’ members, nor the ‘Commissions’ that sit under that committee, are dedicated to safety – unlike doping and marketing. This is reflected in the fact that safety isn’t even a standing item at the UCI management committee meetings.
The authors suggest that this is tantamount to an international regulator paying lip service to safety, failing to give it the prominence that’s required within its sporting code. The use of ISO 4210 standards as the minimum safety requirements for equipment certification by the UCI means it has absolved itself of any formal safety critical inspection duties, or the setting of any specific and prescriptive safety standards.
“Put simply, elite cycling has a safety problem, and the issue has recently found itself central to discussions of professional cycling due to a crash at the 2022 Commonwealth Games Track event that saw numerous riders and bikes enter the crowd at high speed. Other incidents include Stage 1 of the 2023 Vuelta a España being conducted in the dark, the cancellation of the CIC-Tour Feminin International des Pyrénées 2023 for safety concerns, and the tragic death of cyclist Gino Mader at the Tour De Suisse.
“To shed light on this area, we are the first to investigate safety within elite cycling by applying safety culture theory to the now infamous Australian Cycling Olympic incident that saw one of their Olympian’s handlebars snap clean off during the competition. The results reveal a concerning lack of adherence to rules, the existence of light-touch regulation, and inadequate management safety attitudes. As a result, there is a need for immediate improvement at a governing level, as there are distinct parallels between the incident and high-profile failures in other industries. We consider this paper as the foundation for new and exciting academic research in this area as those conversations evolve.”
“Our study unearths a systemic issue that goes beyond the realm of sports and penetrates the corporate world: the notion that safety can take a back seat in the pursuit of performance or profit. From the track to the boardroom, the lessons are clear—when safety culture is not fundamentally woven into an organisation’s DNA, the ramifications can be catastrophic. The risks faced by elite cyclists parallel those in high-stakes industries, like oil and gas, where lapses in safety protocols can lead to disaster. This research serves as a wake-up call for all sectors, calling for a renewed commitment to safety governance. It;s not just about cyclists, it’s about reimagining how we prioritize safety in every facet of life”
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