The best way to reduce the risk of death from tractor rollovers is by using a special device called a rollover protective structure with a seatbelt.
A tractor chugging across a peaceful country field may look harmless but is, in fact, the main cause of occupation-related deaths among farmworkers. Most of these deaths occur when the tractor tips or rolls over, ejecting or crushing its occupant. In ongoing efforts to protect at-risk farmworkers, particularly youth, investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently undertook a demonstration project on how to retrofit an older model tractor with an engineering control called the cost-effective rollover protective structure, or CROPS, a type of rollover protective structure developed by NIOSH engineers. Working with two state partners, the demonstration project successfully retrofitted 50 tractors with a CROPS. These efforts, along with participants’ attitudes toward rollover protective structures, are described in a recent report in the Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health. The demonstration project was part of a longstanding program of NIOSH partnerships with manufacturers, farmers, and state agencies to address challenges in retrofitting older tractors with rollover protective structures and encourage their use.
Research shows that rollover protective structures like CROPS, with a seatbelt, are the best way to reduce the risk of death from tractor rollovers. These structures comprise a sturdy frame attached to a tractor to protect the driver in the event of rollover. Beginning in 1986, rollover protective structures became standard equipment on all new tractors, but many farmworkers still use older models that lack this critical protection. To test the feasibility of retrofitting tractors with CROPS in the field, the NIOSH demonstration project provided CROPS to volunteer study participants. Each study participant agreed to demonstrate the CROPS retrofit installation on a tractor to three to five of their colleagues, friends, and neighbors, with NIOSH and New York and Virginia state investigators on hand to provide assistance.
To assess if study participants’ attitudes and knowledge about rollover protective structures changed after the demonstration, investigators used a series of three written tests. The first test occurred before the demonstration, the second immediately afterwards, and the third after about a year. Findings from the tests were mixed. While participants’ attitudes toward specific aspects, such as rollover protective structures being a good farming practice, generally improved after the demonstration, a great deal of work still is necessary to convince farmworkers that the structures are a critical part of tractor safety. For example, participants’ attitudes about the overall importance of having the rollover protective structures and about general tractor safety did not improve after the demonstration. Prior published results revealed cost and lack of availability as factors for not retrofitting tractors with rollover protective structures.
Additionally, study participants provided information about their use of tractor operators under age 18. Overall, 16% reported young farmworkers operating tractors on their farms, which translated to 44 farmworkers. More than 25% of these young tractor operators were between the ages of 4 and 10, and half were 13 years old or younger. These findings may aid farmers with decisions related to using tractors with rollover protective structures for riskier tasks, such as mowing on slopes or having youth operate only tractors with rollover protective structures. Among the participating farms, only two reported that they had equipped all of their tractors for young operators with rollover protective structures.