Agriculture continues to be one of the most hazardous industries in the United States, accounting for 317 accidental deaths in 2004 alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. It is estimated that more than 80% of all accidents on a farm involve a tractor, and rollover accidents are the leading cause of tractor-related deaths. A side overturn is the most common type of rollover, and it usually happens when traveling on local roads. Other reasons for tractor rollovers are distracted operators, speed abuse, uneven ground and unsafe driving conditions.
Simply put, rollover accidents happen when the tractor is in an unstable situation. Sources of instability may be a dislocated center of gravity (lack of ballast weight), excessive centrifugal force applied to the tractor (such as when turning the tractor at high speed), excessive rear-axle torque (such as when starting a heavy load or starting off in low gear with high engine speed).
Rollover accidents occur faster than our human capacity for reaction. In a backwards tip, for example, the tractor engine powers the tractor to rotate about the rear axle. The tractor can overturn in less than a second -- too quickly for the operator to react. To protect against rollover accidents, it is essential that the tractor be equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and a seat belt. ROPS are roll bars or roll cages designed to create a protective zone around the operator when a rollover occurs. The ROPS and seat belt together prevent more than 99% of all rollover accidental deaths and serious injuries. The seat belt will keep the operator within the safe zone created by the ROPS, eliminating all serious injury potential.
Owners should maintain and care for the ROPS on their tractors. They should never attempt to modify a ROPS. Modifications such as cutting, drilling and welding can render the ROPS useless against rollovers. ROPS also should be inspected often for signs of wear. If a rollover accident occurs, the ROPS should be replaced immediately. If your tractor does not have a ROPS, you can find one that matches it by consulting a list of ROPS retrofits for farm tractors manufactured since 1967 and compiled by the National Farm Medicine Center. Please remember that the cost associated with buying and installing a ROPS is infinitely smaller that the cost associated with a severe injury or death caused by a rollover. The life you will be saving could be your own.
Remember that to eliminate the risk of death or serious injury associated with tractor rollovers, both ROPS and seat belt should be installed and used during tractor operation. To reduce the risks of a rollover accident, here are some tips
To reduce the risk of a side rollover:
- Set wheels as far apart as possible.
- Lock break pedals together before driving at transport speed.
- Match speed to operating conditions.
- Reduce speed before turning.
- Use engine braking when going downhill.
- Avoid crossing steep slopes.
- Stay away from ditches and riverbanks.
- Use caution and pay attention.
To reduce the risk of a rear overturn:
- Use front weights to promote stability.
- Start forward motion slowly and change speed gradually.
- Drive around ditches.
- Use caution when braking down a grade.
Think safety first.