Half of the 4.7 million tractors in the U S. today aren’t equipped with rollover protection structures (ROPS). If they were, injuries and fatalities could be prevented and millions of dollars saved, says Michael Wolf, American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) Agricultural Branch administrator.

Tractor rollovers are the single deadliest type of injury incident on farms. Usually, older tractors are missing ROPS, usually cab or frame compartment structures intended to protect operators if vehicles overturn, says Wolf, who, with his family, owns and operates a small farm in Maryland.

“Retrofitting an older tractor with a ROPS creates a protective zone around the operator when a rollover occurs. When used with a seatbelt, which is recommended, the ROPS will prevent the operator from being thrown from the protective zone and crushed from an overturning tractor or from equipment mounted or hooked to the tractor.”

The fact that children are often present in the workplace is unique to the agriculture industry, Wolf notes. ROPS not only help protect farmers but the families who live, play and work on the farm.

“We are currently working with local, regional and national 4-H outreach to help build awareness of the unique issues within the ag industry and to provide adequate training. This is an important international issue as well, as emerging countries continue to grow and the demand for food continues to increase worldwide as does production,” he says.

The ag industry has the highest rate of occupational fatalities, about 32 per 100,000 employed people or eight times the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the Northeast alone, tractor incidents account for 55-60% of farm fatalities and up to two-thirds of those are due to overturns. Federal officials note that the elimination of overturn fatalities could result in more than $100 million in annual savings.

So where can a farmer turn to retrofit his or her tractor with a ROPS, and what does it cost?

Three types of ROPS frames are available – a two-post frame, a four-post frame and an enclosed ROPS cab. Even foldable ROPS are available for tractors housed in smaller spaces. The cost runs around $765 per ROPS. Many programs have been developed to, not only help farmers find ROPS, but also to provide rebates to offset the cost. The Northeast Center for Agricultural and Occupational Health has a New York ROPS Rebate program that helps make the installation of ROPS easier and affordable. It is now expanding to several Northeastern states, including Vermont, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. In Virginia, Iowa and North Carolina, state Farm Bureau chapters have organized ROPS programs.

“We urge farmers to do this before growing seasons begin,” Wolf says. He also strongly suggests adding a seat belt along with a ROPS. The combination has been estimated to be 99% effective in preventing death or serious injury in the event of a tractor rollover, according to National Ag Safety Database figures.

To learn more information about ag safety and health and to view ASSE’s farm safety facts for rural areas, farm safety and health tips, and farm safety tips for young workers visit its Practice Specialties’ Agricultural Branch.