According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agriculture ranks as one of the most hazardous industries in the country. In fact, between 1992 and 2007, the CDC reports that 8,088 farm workers in the U.S. died from work-related injuries.
The leading cause of death: tractor rollovers, accounting for an average of 96 deaths annually. Additionally, the Farm Safety Association declares that about half of all fatal tractor accidents are caused by rollovers.
There is no perfect solution for preventing tractor rollovers, but there are ways to minimize the life-threatening situations that can occur if a tractor is overturned.
Operators always should be physically and mentally capable of driving a tractor, seatbelts worn at all times and no additional passengers allowed despite the convenience or “fun” of hitching a ride on a tractor. Proper training from an experienced operator is essential, especially with younger users, to learn how a tractor is driven correctly and what factors can cause it to overturn.
Even when proper precautions are taken, accidents do happen. According to the FSA, rollovers generally occur due to driving too fast for the conditions, striking a surface hazard such as a rock, stump or hole, running into a ditch, hitching high for extra traction or driving on steep slopes. In such circumstances, the only thing that can save a life is a seatbelt and Rollover Protective Structure.
Also known as ROPS, the structures are highly engineered steel frames placed around and above the driver’s seat of a tractor or built into a cab structure in similar fashion. Used in conjunction with a seatbelt, ROPS are designed to keep the operator within a frame of safety and protect the driver by limiting a rollover to 90 degrees.
ROPS have been in existence since the late 1960s, but were introduced as a voluntary accessory. In 1985, the American Society of Agricultural Engineers standard for farm-safety equipment changed, stating that the equipment no longer “should” but “shall” be provided on all new tractors. While OSHA standards required ROPS on agricultural tractors prior to 1985, those regulations only applied to the farm operator and just on farms that were subject to OSHA or similar state standards – thus the ASAE change forced tractor manufacturers to make ROPS part of standard equipment for the first time.
Since tractors have a much longer lifespan than automobiles, it is not uncommon to see one that was built in the 1970s or ’80s – without ROPS installed – working in a Kentucky field today. To combat that gap in safety equipment availability, the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture launched an online program in early 2010 to help farmers identify what is needed to retrofit an older tractor with the protective system – and potentially save a life.
By visiting the Kentucky ROPS Guide web site, ca.uky.edu/rops, farmers can easily look up the make and model of their tractor to learn what type of ROPS is needed, which suppliers offer that type of system and how to order it. While this online guide is designed to be extremely user-friendly, its contents are what make it so unique. At this time, ca.uky.edu/rops is the only comprehensive online ROPS guide in the country.