Farming is an extremely hazardous occupation. Yet, according to the National Safety Council, many farmers are not making use of safety equipment that could save lives or prevent disabling injuries.

Tractor-related incidents are not uncommon on the steep terrain and winding, narrow roads that characterize many rural areas. Tractor overturns, accounting for more than 60% of all tractor-related deaths, are the major source of farming fatalities in the state of Kentucky, says Larry Piercy, University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture Extension farm safety specialist.

“Traditionally the death rates in Kentucky agriculture have been two to three times higher than the national average because of our high rate of tractor deaths,” he says.

The good news is the number of overturn-caused deaths has declined in recent years, partly due to an increased use of rollover protective structures (ROPS) that are standard on all tractors manufactured since the mid-1980s, Piercy says. The bad news is there is still room for improvement.

“We still have a number of older tractors that do not have rollover protection,” he says, indicating that one-third to one-half of the tractors in the state are equipped with rollover protection. That leaves a great many that are not protected.

Rollover protection is available for most tractors manufactured after the late 1960s or early 1970s. Piercy says protective systems usually can be retrofitted onto older tractors for $800-$1,200.

“Rollover protection is fairly inexpensive if you consider the value of a life,” Piercy says. “We try to encourage people to consider retrofitting, because it does only take one mistake that could result in what can be a very serious injury or death when the tractor flips without rollover protection.”

Piercy also strongly recommends getting in the habit of wearing a seat belt if the tractor is equipped with a rollover protective system. Seat belts ensure that the operator stays within the safety zone provided by the rollover protective system and protect the farmer from being thrown off the tractor and possibly run over. For those who might rebel at the idea of being strapped in, Piercy says there are other benefits to using the devices.

“Seat belts improve your comfort and reduce fatigue, especially when operating on slopes or rough field conditions,” he says. “Also, they may protect in a highway collision.”

If the tractor will be operated on a highway, some simple precautions can help prevent a collision with faster-moving vehicles. Any time farm equipment is operated on the highway, it should display the slow-moving vehicle emblem. Piercy also emphasizes the need for appropriate lighting.

“If it’s used at night, they need, at least, headlights and a taillight,” he says. “Most of our newer tractors do have the flashing warning lights. Some of them have turn signals. Even some of our towed equipment now has lighting. Always make sure that if you do have that extra equipment that it is in good working order before going out on the road.”

Another precaution Piercy suggests is simple and costs nothing. By eliminating or, at the very least, minimizing extra passengers onboard a tractor — particularly children — the risk for additional injury or death is greatly reduced.

Later in the season, when balers or other towed equipment are used, farmers should be aware of the importance of additional protective devices, such as power take-off (PTO) shields.

“There’s always that potential risk,” Piercy says. “It only takes one mistake.”

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