Since November 2006, the New York State RollOver Protective Structure rebate program (NYS ROPS) has provided assistance to farmers wishing to retrofit their older model tractors with life-saving rollover protection. In addition to providing support in locating certified ROPS for tractors, a rebate of 70 percent (up to $865) is offered through the program.

This is a significant cost sharing opportunity for those looking to install ROPS. The rebate funding can be applied to the purchase of a certified roll bar, any shipping charges, professional installation (if desired) and a sun canopy (if purchased and installed along with the roll bar). Tractors built after 1985 have built-in rollover protection, but many tractors in use today are older than that.

“Tractor overturns are the most frequent cause of farm fatalities, yet we know that the presence of a ROPS structure prevents these tragedies,” said Julie Sorensen, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health (NYCAMH).

Roughly 40 percent of U.S. tractors lack these protective devices. Older farmers, part-time farmers and low-income farms most frequently lack ROPS protection.

“The good news is that we have a successful program in place to prevent tractor-related deaths, and we would like to expand it,” she said.

In fact, six states now provide financial assistance to farmers in part for retrofitting older tractors with ROPS – New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Massachusetts. Through follow-up surveys, the NYS ROPS Rebate Program has been highly rated by participants; 99 percent would recommend the program to other farmers.

To date, nearly 1,800 farmers in six states have retrofitted their tractor through the program and that number continues to climb. New York farmer Bill Lee noted he feels safer now that he’s retrofitted two of his tractors through the program. Bill retrofitted his second tractor with a ROPS and canopy and said it not only keeps him cool but provides protection from skin cancer, which is another safety concern for farmers working in fields throughout the hot summer months.

“I probably wouldn’t have done it if I had to do the money all myself,” he said.

Additionally, Bill says he feels safer now that he’s retrofitted these tractors explaining that while he has never overturned a tractor he has had some close calls. Many farmers know exactly the type of experience Bill is describing – sliding down a hillside, wagons jackknifing, tractor wheels off the ground, etc. In fact, through a follow-up survey with program participants, over 150 responded that since retrofitting through the program they have experienced similar close calls. More importantly, 15 participants responded that they actually experienced a tractor overturn or other life-threatening incident. These are situations where having a roll bar and seatbelt spared death or serious injury to the operator.

While no price can be put on the value of human life, the program has demonstrated that the financial benefits in lives saved far outweigh the program investment. The average cost of a roll bar is $1,000, while the approximate cost of just one overturn fatality is a staggering $1 million. The administrative costs of running the program are provided by grant funding, however, each state must provide their own rebate funds. Many states rely on private industry for contributions, while in New York the rebate funds are provided by the New York State Agriculture Committees in both the Senate and Assembly.

As the ROPS Rebate Program has been so well received by the agricultural community, NYCAMH has taken the lead in an effort to expand it nationally. In May 2014, NYCAMH formed the National Tractor Safety Coalition (NTSC) – a group of 60 organizations including the American Farm Bureau Federation, Nationwide Insurance and the North American Equipment Dealers Association among others – who are working to improve safety in the agriculture industry. The NTSC announced a renewed emphasis on its campaign to prevent tractor deaths in the United States.

“The goal of the NTSC is to scale up existing rebate programs to the national level but this requires the mobilization of resources and expertise,” Sorensen said. “Our two greatest challenges are securing an adequate supply of the specific ROPS needed to retrofit older tractors and securing a national funding source to cover the cost of rebates.

Highlighting the need for ROPS are continuing reports of tractor-related deaths. Studies have shown that the leading cause of death and permanently crippling injuries on farms is tractor rollovers. The Northeast has the highest rate of overturn fatalities in the nation. In the event of a rollover, the use of ROPS and a seatbelt reduces the risk of injury by 99 percent.

The agriculture industry endures one of the highest work-related fatal injury rates. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2012-2013), there were 22.2 deaths per 100,000 thousand in agriculture compared to 3.2 deaths per 100,000 for all workers. While tractors are an essential piece of equipment on the farm they can also prove to be one of the most dangerous.

Those interested in signing up for the ROPS Rebate Program or for more information may call toll free 1-877-ROPS-R4U (1-877-767-7748) or visit http://www.ropsr4u.com.

Barbara Bayes is the ROPS Program Coordinator for the Bassett Healthcare Network in Cooperstown, New York.

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