Tractors are common to all farm operations. They also are the major cause of death in agriculture today. Tractors are linked to more than half of farm-related deaths, both nationally and in Iowa. The National Safety Council estimates more than 100 people were killed in 2004 while operating a tractor. About half of those deaths were the result of a tractor rollover.
The high death rate associated with tractor rollovers is not a new problem. Since 1970, tractor rollover has been the leading cause of farm operator deaths, according to the National Safety Council.
Statistics from tractor rollover injuries show that about five people are killed each year for every 100,000 tractors in operation. The cumulative death toll from tractor rollovers since the development of the tractor is staggering.
Tractor rollover safety: How much do you know?
Test your skill with this quick quiz.
See answers at the end of document.
What is ROPS?
ROPS, or rollover protective structure, is a cab or frame that provides a safe environment for the tractor operator in the event of a rollover. Also called antiroll bars or ROPS cabs, all are designed to prevent death and minimize injury.
However, the first ROPS device was not marketed on new tractors until 1965. Many old tractors used today do not have ROPS.
The ROPS frame must pass a series of static or dynamic crush tests. These tests examine the ability of the ROPS to withstand various loads to see if the protective zone around the operator station remains intact in an overturn.
The tests are extensive and destroy the rollover protective structure.
A homemade bar attached to the tractor axle, or simple sun shades, cannot protect the operator if the tractor overturns. Farm operators should not add their own rollover protection devices to tractors manufactured without ROPS. Without proper design and testing, homemade devices offer a false sense of security that can be more dangerous than operating a tractor without ROPS. The Society of Automotive Engineers and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers have standards on the design of rollover protective structures.
Use seat belts with ROPS
ROPS affords some safety during tractor overturns, but operators need more protection. All operators of tractors equipped with ROPS must wear seat belts. Without a seat belt, the operator will not be confined to the protective zone created by the ROPS.
During an overturn, the operator of a tractor with ROPS could be thrown from the protected area and crushed by the tractor, or even the rollover protective structure itself, if the operator is not wearing a seat belt.
Never use seat belts on a tractor without ROPS. In this case, the operator has no chance of survival because the seat belt will keep the operator in the seat as the tractor rolls over and crushes the operator. It is not certain whether the operator would be thrown clear from the tractor if seat belts were not worn, but that remains the operator’s only chance of survival.
Reduce your rollover risks
There are several ways to reduce the possibility of tractor rollovers. However, these safety practices are not a substitute for ROPS. Follow these tips and use seat belts on tractors equipped with ROPS to keep operators safe.
New equipment with ROPS
In 1985, tractor manufacturers adopted a voluntary standard to sell all tractors with ROPS in place. All new tractors are equipped at the factory with ROPS. The ROPS may be part of the cab structure and may not be visible, but the protection will be there.
Tractors made more than 40 years ago without advances in safety technology are operational today. It is estimated that less than one-third of the 4.4 million tractors used for agricultural purposes have ROPS. Older tractors often are used in situations typically associated with tractor rollover injuries, such as mowing the road ditch area, using a front-end loader, and hauling fallen trees.
Retrofit older tractors
Older tractors can be retrofitted with rollover protective structures. Check with your local dealer for manufacturers, models, and approximate costs of obtaining retrofit ROPS for tractors. Retrofitting can pose a difficult decision because its cost for an older tractor can exceed the machine’s actual value. However, the true cost is in the lives that could be saved.
Tractor rollover safety: What can you do?
You can reduce your risk of being injured or killed while operating a tractor. Check your operation for the following items.
For more information
This publication covers only some aspects of farm safety. Other fact sheets in the Safe Farm series are available. Ask for:
Answers to quiz: 1-b; 2-False; 3-d; 4-False
Publication #: PM 1265d
Safe Farm is an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach project helping to make Iowa farms a safer place to work and live.
For more safety information, check the web at www.abe.iastate.edu.
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