A tractor can turn over suddenly; if it is not equipped with a rollover protection structure (ROPS) and a seatbelt, there is a good chance the tractor could crush the driver. ROPS are compartment structures (usually cabs or frames) intended to protect equipment operators from injuries caused by vehicle overturns.
“The most important safety feature missing on older tractors is rollover protection,” said ASSE Agricultural Branch Administrator Michael Wolf. In addition to being a safety professional and ASSE Chesapeake Chapter president, Wolf and his family own and operate a small farm in Maryland. “Retrofitting older tractors with a ROPS creates a protective zone around the operator when a rollover occurs. When used with a seatbelt, which is recommended, the ROPS will prevent the operators from being thrown from the protective zone and crushed from an overturning tractor or from equipment mounted or hooked to the tractor.”
Wolf added that children often are present in the agriculture industry – either as part of the work force or, in the case of younger children, at home on the farm. ROPS not only help protect farmers but also the families who live, play and work on the farm.
“One of the most common causes of death and serious injury on farms is related to the heavy equipment required to run a farm,” Wolf explained. “We are currently working with local, regional and national 4-H outreach to help build awareness of the unique issues within the [agriculture] industry and to provide adequate training. This is an important international issue as well, as emerging countries continue to grow and the demand for food continues to increase worldwide as does production.”
A high number of farming fatalities are attributed to tractor turnovers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agriculture industry has the highest rate of occupational fatalities at about 32 per 100,000 employed people or eight times the national average. In the Northeast alone, tractor incidents account for 55-60 percent of farm fatalities and up to two-thirds of those are due to overturns. Federal officials note that the elimination of overturn fatalities could result in more than $100 million in annual savings.
Three types of ROPS frames are available – a two-post frame, a four-post frame and an enclosed ROPS cab. Foldable ROPS also are available for tractors housed in smaller spaces. Many programs have been developed not only to help farmers find ROPS, but also provide rebates to offset some of the cost of the structures (approximately $765).
The Northeast Center for Agricultural and Occupational Health has a New York ROPS Rebate program to help make the process of installing ROPS easier and more affordable.The program is expanding to several northeastern states including Vermont, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. In Virginia, Iowa and North Carolina, ROPS programs have been organized by state Farm Bureau chapters.
“We urge farmers to do this before growing seasons begin,” Wolf said. “However, whether or not a ROPS rebate program is in place where they live, we urge farmers in the U.S. and around the world to make sure their tractor has a ROPS and not only fitted with a seat belt, but that they use that seat belt with the ROPS. You just never know what can happen.”
National Ag Safety Database figures show that the use of ROPS and a seat belt is estimated to be 99 percent effective in preventing death or serious injury in the event of a tractor rollover
To help address hazards posed by agricultural work, ASSE established an Agricultural Branch as a part of the ASSE Environmental Practice Specialty to provide a forum for EHS professionals in the agricultural industry to network and gain knowledge regarding best practices in safety and health issues affecting agricultural production operations of all sizes, including seed production, agricultural chemicals, transportation, equipment safety, compliance and enforcement.
To learn more information about agricultural safety and health and to view ASSE’s farm safety facts for rural areas, farm safety and health tips and farm safety tips for young workers, visit http://www.asse.org/newsroom/safetytips/farmsafetytips.php and Practice Specialties’ Agricultural Branch.