Agricultural tractor rollovers have been the leading cause of farm operator deaths since 1970 according to the National Safety Council. The data collected by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggests that anywhere from 130 to 250 fatalities can be attributed to tractor rollovers annually. What is especially alarming is that these deaths are preventable. Rollover Protection Structures, or ROPS, are roll bars or roll cage structures designed to create a protective zone around the operator in the event of a rollover. The use of ROPS in conjunction with seatbelts is estimated to be 99 percent effective in preventing death or serious injury during a rollover. Preventing tractor rollover fatalities is as simple as having ROPS on a tractor, and always using the ROPS system appropriately.
Rollover protection structures are not a new concept. In fact, ROPS were sold as optional equipment on U.S. farm tractors from 1967-1985. In 1985, ROPS became standard equipment on agricultural tractors with greater than 20 horsepower. Surprisingly, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health estimates that of the approximately 4 million tractors currently in use in the U.S., only about half are equipped with ROPS. There are many reasons for this shocking statistic. First, many tractors in use today predate ROPS becoming standard equipment. Second, many operators take off the roll bar or seatbelt from a tractor equipped with ROPS. Many operators consider the ROPS and seatbelt to be an inconvenience and elect to remove these crucial safety devices. Whatever the reason, tractor operators should know that using a tractor without ROPS is extremely dangerous. Certain measures can be taken to decrease the chances of a rollover. But due to the power and high center of gravity of the tractors, along with unpredictable terrain tractors are commonly used on, a ROPS is the best method for preventing serious injury or death in case of a rollover.
The importance of seatbelt use in conjunction with ROPS is commonly overlooked. The roll bar is designed to maintain a protective zone around the operator in case of a rollover. The seatbelt is crucial in keeping the operator inside that protective zone. Even with ROPS, the operator can be crushed by the tractor or even the roll bar itself if the occupant is not securely belted to the tractor. Operators must wear seatbelts in order for ROPS to adequately protect in the event of a rollover.
As all avid hunters know, the end of summer and beginning of fall marks the time of year to plant winter food plots for wildlife. This yearly ritual requires the use of an agricultural tractor. It never ceases to amaze me how many tractors I see in use this time of year that are not equipped with ROPS. Often times the hobby farmer planting for wildlife opts for older, used tractors and equipment that predate ROPS. Although older tractors may have all of the necessary power and functions that a hobby farmer needs, they lack crucial modern safety devices. However, regardless of age, nearly any tractor can be retrofitted with ROPS.
Tractors are dangerous machines that cause hundreds of fatalities each year. Operators must use caution and good judgment both in selecting a tractor to use, and also during its operation. Although rollovers are just one of many ways a tractor can injure or kill the operator, it is far too common, yet easily preventable. Any tractor without ROPS is unreasonably dangerous and should be retrofitted with ROPS. The average tractor operator does not appreciate just how easily these machines can roll over. Nor do they realize and appreciate the deadly consequences that can result from a rollover. The tractor manufacturers and dealers have a legal and moral responsibility to make tractors reasonably safe. Retrofitting tractors in use without ROPs is their responsibility. If you need additional information on this subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
Source: Penn State Extension
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