Tractor rollovers are one of the leading causes of death among farm workers in the United States. More than 100 workers die each year in such accidents. But, you can minimize this risk by using the proper safety equipment and training your employees on the safe operation of your tractors.

Regulations state all agricultural and industrial tractors manufactured after October 25, 1976 must be equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS). This can be as simple as a roll bar behind where the driver sits. Or, it can be as elaborate as a fully enclosed cab that also protects the driver from the outdoor elements.

ROPS systems are not required for tractors manufactured before October 25, 1976, but are available for purchase and installation. All tractors are much safer with the ROPS than without. An online search can put you in touch with several ROPS distributors, so you can retrofit your older tractors.

What your employees need to know about tractor rollovers and ROPS protection

Tractor accidents generally result from an operator driving too fast for conditions, striking surface hazards, running into ditches, or driving on steep slopes. They also occur when handling large round hay bales and other heavy loads with front-end loaders. Slowing down and being more alert helps prevent these accidents.

However, when a rollover does occur, that’s where the ROPS comes in. The ROPS provides separation between the ground and where the driver is sitting. The driver must also wear a seatbelt (required by law on all ROPS-equipped tractors). Without the ROPS and seatbelt use, the driver can be thrown from the tractor. It can then also roll on top of the driver.

How to prevent a tractor roll-over

OSHA has established a set of operating regulations. These help minimize the risk of a tractor rollover or other accident. Prevention steps include:

  • Avoid ditches, holes, and other embankments whenever possible.
  • Reduce speed while turning, crossing slopes, and on rough, muddy, or slick surfaces.
  • Avoid slopes too steep for operation.
  • Operate the tractor smoothly by avoiding jerky turns, starts, or stops.
  • Never transport passengers. (OSHA forbids this).

At your safety meeting

Since each worksite varies, you might conduct each safety meeting in the work area. This way you show your employees right away where all the trouble spots are. Remind them how dangerous it is to go too fast or otherwise operate the tractor improperly.

Discuss and demonstrate how the ROPS system works. If drivers are wearing a seatbelt, the ROPS protection should provide the necessary protection to ride out the rollover.

OSHA requires regular training for tractor use. Regulations state this training must be held when a worker is first assigned to operate a tractor and at least once per year after that.

With more than four million of them in use on our nation’s farms, tractors are an important tool for the agricultural industry. Only using those equipped with the ROPS protection gives you and your employees critical protection if something were to go wrong.