The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


July 29, 2011

Tractor flips killed 62 in Pa. in past decade

MIFFLINBURG — The tractor that flipped and killed Elmer I. Faust on Wednesday evening was an old Farmall C model with a tricycle front end, and “those can be dangerous,” said Jerry Hoover, of Hoover Tractor, Mifflinburg, which sells farm equipment.

Faust, a 71-year-old Rush Township resident, died when the tractor he was driving along a logging road hit a tree stump, rolled and pinned him underneath.

Rollovers, Hoover said, are particularly prevalent in older-model tractors.

Older model tractors have large rear wheels, and in a narrow front end, two small tires that almost seem to be touching, Hoover said, a design intended for traction. When the operator encounters hillsides or rough terrain, the tractors can cause accidents.

“The problem with the older models is they were not equipped with safety features, as they are now,” Hoover said. “With those models we have seen a lot more tipping over on hillsides, mostly because the front wheels weren’t wide at all. The most common reasons that cause a tractor to roll over is if it hits a tree stump, or if or if the tractor is on a bank or hillside and the lower wheel drops into a gopher hole and it tips over.

“The other thing that can happen is when you are towing something, and the chain hooks onto a tree stump and pulls you back over.”

Tractor accidents represent the leading cause of fatal and disabling injuries on farms.

Between 2000 and 2009, Pennsylvania recorded 62 tractor-rollover deaths.

Statistics for 2010 and 2011 are not available.

Rollovers, Hoover said, don’t seem to happen with newer model tractors.

Newer tractors have four-wheel drive which seems to eliminate some of the danger of rollovers, Hoover said.

“Some of the other safety features built into newer model tractors include having a wider front,” he said. “The newer models also have seat belts and rollover bars.”

It was 1986 was when manufacturers voluntarily started installing rollover protection, Hoover said. Since 1986, Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandates requires tractors to have rollover protection system.

“That’s fine,” Hoover said, “but a lot of farmers around here have older equipment without safety systems. And the government is not telling those with older tractors to turn them in.”

Penn State Cooperative Extension statistics reveal that if one is riding a tractor, wearing a seat belt and has rollover protection bar in place, he has a 99 percent survival rate in the event of a rollover.

With just a folding roll bar, one has a 95 percent survival rate.

Most fatalities occur when the tractor has neither a seat belt nor a rollover bar.

A safety program launched this year by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences would put rollover protective structures, or ROPS, on hundreds of older tractors, “with the goal of saving farmers’ lives,” said Aaron Yoder, a Penn State instructor in agricultural and biological engineering and extension safety specialist.

The ROPS Retrofit Program for Pennsylvania Farmers addresses a continuing crisis, Yoder said — “Dozens of farmers die in rollover tractor accidents every decade.”

“Agriculture is recognized as the most dangerous industry in the United States,” he said. “One major reason for this is tractor rollovers.”

Rollover protective structures are designed to limit a roll by 90 degrees, so that if a tractor rolls, it would fall onto its side or end.

“The protective equipment is beneficial for all farmers, not just farmers who live in areas with a lot of hills,” Yoder said. “Even if you’re pulling something out of the ground with it hitched improperly, the tractor could roll over backward.”

For the first time, farmers across the state have access to a program that makes life-saving tractor equipment affordable and simple to order, Yoder said. The rollover-prevention equipment costs between $800 and $1,000, sometimes matching the value of a farmer’s tractor.

It’s not inexpensive, and that’s one reason why more farmers don’t always use the safety equipment,“ he said.

“Many farmers don’t want to go through the hassle of ordering and installing the equipment,” Yoder said. “Farmers should consider the ROPS as inexpensive insurance, like health and life insurance. ROPS and seat belt use are 99 percent effective in preventing serious injuries or death.”

Through the ROPS Retrofit Program, farmers are reimbursed 70 percent of the cost of their ROPS kit, a roll bar and seat belt, up to a savings of $765.

For more information on the rebate program, call the ROPS hotline toll-free at (877) 767-7748.

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