Washington FACE: Tractor operator dies when tractor rolls over on road

Photo of the scene of the incidnt where the tractor rolloed over on the road

Fatality Narrative

Industry: Apple orchard

Release Date: October 19, 2015

Task: Operating tractor on roadway Incident Date: April 11, 2015
Occupation: Orchard laborer Case No.: 15WA01401
Type of Incident: Tractor rollover SHARP Report No.: 71-141-2015

Incident scene showing the overturned tractor with attached sprayer on the county road along which it had been traveling.

Incident scene showing the overturned tractor with attached
sprayer on the county road along which it had been traveling.

On April 11, 2015, a 57-year-old orchard laborer was fatally injured when the tractor he was operating rolled over.

The victim was an experienced tractor operator and was a seasonal worker at his employer’s apple orchard. He had spent the morning and early afternoon operating a tractor towing a sprayer to spray several blocks in an apple orchard. The orchard in which he had been working met the Washington State exemption for using a tractor’s rollover protective structure (ROPS) or roll bar in the down or lowered position; this is allowed in orchards when tractor height clearances would interfere with normal operations. The tractor he was operating had been manufactured to have a foldable ROPS, but it did not have one installed, nor did it have a seat belt.

In order to get to another orchard block, he had to travel a mile and a half on a paved county road. He was traveling downhill along this road towing an empty sprayer when he drove the tractor to the right onto the road’s soft, gravel shoulder. He apparently attempted to bring the tractor back onto the road, but overcorrected, causing the tractor to veer into the opposite lane and overturn. He was crushed under the tractor and declared dead at the scene.

An investigation determined that speed may have been a factor. The tractor was in high gear and may have been going between 11 and 15 mph. The incident investigator confirmed that a local tractor dealership had ROPS available for the tractor model involved in the incident. If this tractor had been fitted with ROPS and the operator had been wearing a seat belt, he would have been protected from being crushed under the tractor.

Scene of the incident.

Incident scene showing the road along which the tractor
towing a sprayer was traveling when it went onto the road’s
soft, graveled shoulder and the operator overcorrected when
he attempted to gain control. (Top). The tractor then veered
into the opposite lane and rolled over. (Bottom).


Rollover Protective Structures on agricultural tractors

Seat belts on agricultural tractors

  • Where ROPS are required by WAC 296-307-080 employers must:
    1. Provide each tractor with a seat belt.
    2. Require that each employee use the seat belt while the tractor is moving.
    3. Require that each employee tighten the seat belt sufficiently to confine the employee to the ROPS protected area. See WAC 296-307-08012.


ROPS and seat belts on tractors save lives!

  • If your tractor does not have a ROPS, contact your local tractor dealer to have the tractor fitted with ROPS.
  • Train tractor operators to use ROPS and a seat belt. The ROPS should be folded down only when necessary, otherwise it should be in the “up” position.
  • Use the braking power of the tractor’s engine by shifting to a lower gear when going downhill. Operating the tractor in a high gear can make it difficult to control.
  • Traveling too fast while pulling a sprayer, trailer, or an implement can make it hard to maintain control of the tractor and could result in it jack-knifing or rolling over.

This bulletin was developed to alert employers and employees of a tragic loss of life of a worker in Washington State and is based on preliminary data ONLY and does not represent final determinations regarding the nature of the incident or conclusions regarding the cause of the fatality.

Developed by Washington State Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries. The FACE Program is supported in part by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH grant# 2 U60OH008487-11). For more information, contact the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program, 1-888-667-4277.

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Washington state department of labor and indursties logo and Washington FACE report logo


Publication #: 15WA01401| October 19, 2015

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More