Tractor safety program reaches milestone in Pennsylvania

Karl Hertzler (left), a farmer from Middleburg, and Dennis Murphy, Nationwide Insurance Professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences, stand in front of Hertzler's 1970 tractor, which was the 100th to be retrofitted with a rollover protective structure under a program administered by Penn State Extension. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A program designed to reduce tractor-related farm injuries and deaths by helping farmers pay for the installation of rollover protective structures, or ROPS, recently reached a milestone in Pennsylvania. Administered by Penn State Extension, the ROPS Retrofit Program for Pennsylvania Farmers funded the installation of the 100th ROPS since the initiative began in 2011. Dennis Murphy, Nationwide Insurance Professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences, visited the farm of Karl Hertzler, of Middleburg, Snyder County, to present a check as partial reimbursement for equipping Hertzler's 1970 John Deere 4020 with a roll bar, representing the program's 100th installation. "Rollover protective structures, when combined with seatbelt use, can almost entirely prevent deaths and serious injuries from tractor overturns," said Murphy, who oversees Penn State Extension agricultural safety and health programs. "Although there's still much work to do in equipping older tractors in Pennsylvania with this important safety feature, we're pleased that operators of these first 100 tractors are safer as a result of this program." Statistics on farm injuries and fatalities illustrate the need for ROPS on tractors, Murphy noted. "Farming is among the most dangerous occupations in the United States, with a fatality rate that is 800 percent higher than the average American worker," he said. "Tractors are the leading cause of deaths on the farm, and the most frequent cause of tractor-related deaths is side and rear overturns." For instance, he explained, of the 37 farm fatalities in Pennsylvania in 2013, 15 were tractor-related, and 10 of those involved a rollover. "Because of our rolling terrain, farmers in the Northeast experience the highest rates of overturn death," he said. Moreover, 80 percent of rollover deaths happen to experienced farmers, and seven out of 10 farms that suffer a tractor overturn fatality will go out of business within a year. In addition, one in seven farmers involved in a tractor overturn is permanently disabled. The ROPS Retrofit Program, which also operates in five other states in the Northeast, will rebate 70 percent of the cost of purchasing and installing rollover protection, up to a maximum reimbursement of $865. This includes the cost of the ROPS (roll bar, ROPS with awning or ROPS cab), shipping and installation charges. Hertzler praised the program for defraying the cost of making operating older tractors safer for farmers, who often have razor-thin profit margins. He has owned the tractor for 35 years, currently using it for planting, pulling wagons and lighter cultivation on his 125-acre farm, where he raises heifers, laying hens and beef cows. He also sells eggs to local retail stores. "In 60-plus years of farming, I've been fortunate that I've never had a tractor rollover," he said. "But a lot of things can happen on a farm, so you use caution and try to reduce the risk where you can. Having a roll bar on this tractor gives me a little piece of mind in case the unexpected happens." The program, which receives support from Farm Family Life Insurance Co., Land O' Lakes Inc., AgChoice Farm Credit and other donors, has raised $76,000 to date. But there's currently a waiting list of more than 100 farmers waiting for funding to assist them in having a ROPS installed, Murphy said. Hertzler was on the waiting list for more than three years. "When we hear the tragic stories of farmers or their family members being hurt or killed while working hard to make a living in a very demanding business, it motivates us to make agriculture as safe as possible for those who feed the rest of us," Murphy said. "Our ultimate goal is to keep going until all farm tractors are equipped with rollover protective structures." 

Last Updated April 29, 2015