Rollover Risk

Antique Power magazine celebrates the rewards of the antique tractor hobby, but any use of large and powerful machine constitutes a risk. Within the past week, I heard through a local tractor club that an 86-year-old tractor owner and friend to many was found dead, pinned under his overturned tractor and asphyxiated by its weight.

These tragic tractor rollover accidents can happen to anyone, not just newbies.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safely and Health (NIOSH), in 2012 alone, 374 deaths resulted from farm work injuries, with the majority (about 250) caused by tractor rollovers. Please read and share this post to learn how easy it is to dramatically decrease the chances of this happening to you or a loved one.

Just look at a few of the statistics posted on the website of the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health to realize the seriousness of this problem—

  • 80 percent of fatal rollover accidents happen to experienced farmers
  • 1 in 7 of those who survive such accidents will be left permanently disabled
  • 7 out of 10 farms affected by a rollover fatality will be out of business within 5 years
  • Fatalities related to farm work are 800 percent higher (other sources say 700 percent) than for any other job

Causes of Rollovers

I urge you to watch the videos in this post. You will be shocked to see how quickly and unexpectedly tragic rollover accidents can happen, even to experienced operators. A few common situations most likely to cause rolling over to the side or flipping over end to end are tasks that redistribute weight, such as removing downed trees or using a front-end loader. Many overturns happen when mowing ditches. Go downward and then back your way up the incline, rather than traversing it sideways, tipped at an angle. Embankments of any kind are risky. Any edge, whether a straight one along a road or a circular one around a depression, can give way easily and unexpectedly, even if the edge appears to be firm. Attach implements only to the drawbar, nothing higher, and on a tractor with a three-way hitch, use only implements designed to work with one.

Photo courtesy Penn State Agricultural Safety and Health Program

Photo courtesy Penn State Agricultural Safety and Health Program

The Solution — ROPS

The best protection against tractor rollover fatalities is having a Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS), which can be a cab, roll bars, or a roll cage. If a tractor rolls over, such a structure provides a zone of protection around the operator, saving him or her from being crushed beneath either the tractor or an implement it is pulling. (A ROPS also helps to prevent damage to the tractor itself.) Combining this protection with the use of a seatbelt reduces by 99 percent the risk of a serious injury or fatality. Even without a seat belt, a ROPS can reduce the risk by 70 percent. The tractor manufacturing industry first introduced ROPS in the late 1960s, but these devices remained optional equipment until 1985 when the industry adopted voluntary standards. By Oct. 25, 1976, all agricultural tractors exceeding 20 horsepower and used by hired employees were required by the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to have an approved ROPS.

Important Note: Using a seatbelt with a ROPS is very important, virtually eliminating your risk; without a ROPS, a seatbelt increases risk during a rollover. It would trap the victim rather than allowing them to be thrown from the tractor. According to the data, the best situation is a ROPS and seat belt.

So, why do these accidents still happen when Roll-Over Protective Structures Exist?

Of the approximately 4.7 million agricultural tractors in use in the United States, even 31 years after the adoption of ROPS by the industry, only about half have these devices. Part of the problem is that people tend to keep tractors for a long time, and many older tractors—the kind readers of Antique Power magazine love—are still in use.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as of 2012, 374 farmers and farm employees died from on-the-job injuries, the majority of which were caused by tractor rollover accidents, yet in that year, only 59 percent of tractors had ROPS. Other alarming NIOSH figures show how many young people are at risk. In 2012, out of the 955,000 persons under the age of 20 living on farms, about 472,000 were doing farm work, and about 259,000 more who did not live on farms were hired for farm jobs. Studies show that about 10 percent of operators will overturn a tractor at some point in their lives. If you are driving an older tractor without any rollover protection, you are taking a big chance.

Then there are the excuses.

People will always resist spending money or making changes. There is no doubt that few tractor operators will wear a seatbelt, and some complain that a ROPS can block visibility to some degree or that the ROPS requires more clearance when storing the tractor. That last one is no excuse, since there are folding models.

As for the money, what is your life worth, or that of your children or grandchildren? Look at this as a one-time investment that will protect whoever drives the tractor in the future, and check into the rebate programs being offered in many states, with the goal of soon being available in all states.  Please take a look at this ROPSR4U website from the National Tractor Safety Coalition’s National ROPS Rebate Program.

Retrofit your tractor, but not at home!

Many of our readers like to do things themselves, partly to save money, but even the best DIY skills cannot duplicate the scientifically designed, extensively tested, and professionally installed ROPS devices. A proper ROPS not only meets the standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, but it also requires special materials and manufacturing and assembly procedures, as well as testing equipment even the most experienced do-it-yourselfer does not have. This goes way beyond supplies at your local hardware store and the abilities of an average welder. If someone dies or is injured on a tractor with a homemade ROPS, you could also be legally liable.

In addition to the National Tractor Safety Coalition website (also shown above) please also see this Guide to Available Retrofit ROPS for Agricultural Tractors Nationwide from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

At Antique Power, we want you to be SAFE as you enjoy the wonderful world of vintage tractors!

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