A few safety precautions and the proper equipment can help prevent serious injuries to tractor drivers this harvest season, reminds Bill Windsor, associate vice president of consumer safety at Nationwide Agribusiness Insurance Co.

He points out that the No. 1 cause of injuries and fatalities in agriculture is tractor rollovers. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were nearly 900 fatalities between 2003 and 2007 involving farm tractors and about 43% were from rollovers

“Despite decades of awareness of this problem and effective solutions available, the death toll continues to rise,” says Windsor. “The start of harvest season is a good time to remind everyone that most accidents can be prevented by following basic tractor safety guidelines and having proper rollover equipment.”

There are approximately 4.2 million tractors on U.S. farms and ranches and about 1.7 million of them don’t have rollover protective structures (ROPS). According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, if all tractors had ROPS, fatality rates could be reduced by at least 71%.

“The average age of tractors is over 25 years and most tractors manufactured before 1985 do not have ROPS,” says Windsor. “To reduce fatalities, we need to continue to promote safe tractor operation, encourage farmers to retrofit older tractors with low-cost ROPS options and make newer technologies such as stability indicator sensors more widely available.”

He adds that tractor operators should use seat belts in conjunction with ROPS to remain inside the protective zone during an overturn and to never ride with passengers.

In addition to rollovers, four other major areas cause most farm tractor accidents: run overs, blind spots, entanglements and road accidents. Here are tips to prevent each. But the best idea is to develop a “safety first” attitude on your farm, says Windsor. Follow safe work practices at all times and set a good example for others.

Rollovers – Be sure your tractors are equipped with ROPS and seat belts. Use the seat belts, back up steep slopes, check for uneven ground or large obstacles, avoid wet or muddy fields and drive tractors slowly.

Run overs – Always turn the engine off when you’re not in the driver’s seat, and never allow extra riders.

Blind spots – Never allow children to play or hide around tractors or other equipment. Walk all the way around tractors and other equipment before getting on to ensure you are aware of anything in your path.

Entanglements – Be sure pto shields are in place or replace them; always walk around an operating pto, not over it; don’t wear loose-fitting clothes or allow loose, long hair around machinery with moving parts; and disengage the power and turn the engine off before trying to manually clear a clogged machine.

Road accidents – Tractors should not be operated on highways without flashing lights and reflective slow-moving-vehicle (SMV) emblems displayed on the rear of any machinery, even if it’s being towed. Stay aware of any traffic around you, and stay as far over to the right of the road as practical.