Rollover Protection Structures can prevent injury/death due to tractor rollovers

August 27, 2018

Image with caption: UNMC graduate student Dan Kent (center) discusses with young farmers the importance of seat belts and rollover protection structures.

UNMC graduate student Dan Kent (center) discusses with young farmers the importance of seat belts and rollover protection structures.

Is your life worth $391?

That’s the average out-of-pocket cost of a Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS) for enrollees in the National ROPS Rebate Program, which launched in June 2017. Agricultural experts throughout the United States strongly endorse ROPS as a way to reduce the impact of tractor rollovers, the number one cause of farm injury or death.

Since the program began, more than 2,000 tractors have been retrofitted, with more than $1.5 million in rebates going directly to farmers since the program began. Records show that at least 197 close calls and 16 serious injuries/fatalities have been prevented through these efforts.

Program funds have been provided through donations. Major donors include Compeer Financial, CHS, Land O’ Lakes, AgCountry Farm Credit Services, Auction of Champions, New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, American National Company, New York State Assembly and Senate Agriculture Committees, and Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Foods and Markets.

The first ROPS rebate program was established in the State of New York in 2006, outfitting more than 2,300 tractors over 12 years and documenting "an impressive number" of operators whose lives were saved by a ROPS.

While use of newer model tractors, with ROPS incorporated into their design, has had a positive impact on rollovers, reducing overall numbers and risk of death or injury is still high when ROPS and seat belts aren’t in use.

"In Nebraska, tractor rollover incidents aren’t as prevalent as in areas where more small, older tractors are in use," said Aaron Yoder, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental, agricultural and occupational health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health. "That’s because many farmers here use newer tractors. But if ROPS aren’t in place, a rollover can be fatal in a new tractor model, too."

In 8 out of 10 tractor rollover incidents, either inexperienced or aging operators are involved. That’s because it’s both young drivers and older farmers who tend to use small, older model tractors for minor chores around the farm. Newer tractors are used for major farm activities.

"Those older tractors pose the most rollover risk," Dr. Yoder said. "Other scenarios where rollovers often occur are in hayfields with rolling or hilly terrain. Mowing, baling and hauling hay on uneven terrain put tractor operators at greater risk for rollovers."

Statistics have shown that 99.9 percent of tractor operators using ROPS and a seat belt survive a rollover with few injuries.

"We haven’t documented a case of anyone killed in a rollover when they were using both the ROPS and the seatbelt," Dr. Yoder said.

It was 1985 when American tractor manufacturers voluntarily added ROPS to all farm tractors with more than 20 horsepower sold in the United States. Of some 4.8 million tractors used on U.S. farms, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that about 50 percent of those tractors do not feature rollover protection.

"Although newer model tractors are designed with ROPS and seatbelts, some of those features are disabled or removed for a variety of reasons," Dr. Yoder said. "If the rollbars get in the way and are folded down or if seatbelts malfunction, the protection often isn’t restored to working condition."

ROPS that hinder visibility or make it difficult to operate the tractor in a tight space are common reasons the protection is folded down or removed.

ROPS are designed to create a protective zone around a tractor operator when a rollover occurs. As long as the roll bars and seat belt keep the operator within that zone of protection, there’s little risk of being crushed or injured from a tractor rollover.

All ROPS have been tested to meet crush, static and dynamic standards set by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Testing involves impacting the ROPS in a prescribed manner with a 4,410 pound pendulum weight from behind and on both sides. To pass the test, the ROPS must remain intact and provide the specified zone distance for the operator.

ROPS can be made of any material as long as they meet temperature requirements and withstand the standard tests. Typical ROPS installed on later model tractors are made of precision-welded steel that won’t facture in cold temperatures. ROPS designs include two-post, four-post and ROPS with an enclosed cab. Two-post ROPS are the most common design and are available in either rigid or foldable models.

A rigid ROPS features upright posts that are either vertical or slightly tilted and mounted to the tractor’s rear axle. The foldable ROPS was designed with hinges to allow the ROPS to be adjusted so the tractor will fit in low clearance areas.

A four-post ROPS is mounted onto both axles and onto the frame in front of the operator. The ROPS with an enclosed cab is typically installed by the manufacturer, and the structure acts as a ROPS.

Once installed, a ROPS should be periodically inspected and serviced to check for extreme rust, cracks or other signs of wear. If lighting or other attachments are attached to a ROPS, they should be clamped on. It’s never advisable to drill holes in a ROPS.

ROPS should never be used as a point of attachment for a chain, hook or cable because the ROPS could be damaged.

"If a tractor fitted with ROPS does overturn, the ROPS should be replaced," Dr. Yoder said. "They’re designed to absorb energy generated by a tractor hitting the ground, but they will only withstand a single overturn."

It can be difficult to find a ROPS that fits an older tractor. "The Kentucky ROPS Guide," compiled by University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, lists ROPS for tractors manufactured since 1967. It’s available online at http://warehouse.ca.uky.edu/rops/ropshome.asp

Local equipment dealers should also have ROPS information for retrofitting their own tractor brands.

Because producing a ROPS for some older model tractors may be cost prohibitive, there are now ROPS rebate programs available in every state through the National ROPS Rebate Program.

To enroll in the program, tractor owners can call 877-767-7748 or go to www.ROPSr4u.com. The program team will provide enrollees with sourcing information and cost estimates for ROPS kits. Full enrollment details are available on the website.

"Through this program, tractor owners will find assistance in helping identify the proper ROPS for their tractor model," Dr. Yoder said. "On a moderate-sized tractor, a ROPS costs approximately $1,000. For larger tractors the cost may be as high as $2,000. Some states have an additional rebate fund. Depending on the state, rebates can be as high as 70 percent of the ROPS cost."

Dr. Yoder noted that some equipment dealers may be willing to discount the cost of a ROPS and installation because they’re well aware of the level of safety the ROPS provide.

"On newer tractors, we strongly urge operators to keep their rollbars up," Dr. Yoder said. "They may sometimes be in the way when you’re getting in and out of the tractor or doing something like mowing. Fold them down if you have to, but don’t leave them that way. Put them back in place. Don’t risk injury or death for the sake of convenience.

"That same principle applies to all the safety features on newer tractors," he said. "It’s there for a reason. Don’t bypass it or leave it in disrepair. Make sure all your safety features are working and in place to protect whoever is in the driver’s seat."

ROLLOVER FACTS (www.ropsr4u.com)

* Each year, approximately 26.7 out of every 100,000 American farmers die on the job.

* The tractor is the leading cause of death on a farm; the most frequent cause of tractor-related deaths are side and rear overturns (96 deaths per year).

* 80 percent of deaths caused by rollovers happen to experienced farmers.

* 1 in 7 farmers involved in tractor overturns are permanently disabled.

* 7 out of 10 farms will go out of business within 5 years of a tractor overturn fatality.

* ROPS are 99 percent effective in preventing injury or death in the event of an overturn when used with a seatbelt and 70 percent effective when used without a seatbelt.

* Roughly half of U.S. tractors do not have rollover protection.

* Through the National ROPS Rebate Program, the average out-of-pocket expense for a ROPS kit is $391.

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