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Remember safety when using vintage tractors

vintage tractors
OLDER TRACTORS VULNERABLE: Many older tractors are reserved primarily for tractor drives and parades. Those in daily service on farms are particularly vulnerable to tractor rollover accidents.
Throwback Tech: A love affair with tractors from the ’40s and ’50s doesn’t change the fact that rollovers are a major cause of injuries and deaths on farms.

You often find older tractors featured in Indiana Prairie Farmer. The Tractor Treasures column highlights tractors from the past and the people who own them. Many are restored and only driven for parades, tractor drives and shows.

Nearly 100% don’t have Rollover Protective Structures. The operator is at a much higher risk of injury or death if a tractor overturn should occur with no ROPS. Most antique enthusiasts take precautions, such as not pulling anything unless it’s hitched to the drawbar and staying off steep slopes. Most restored tractors aren’t used in the field. A few find their way into fields for plowing demonstrations or to pull an equally old machine at an antique farming demonstration.

That doesn’t negate the fact that they don’t have ROPS. I have a couple of these older tractors myself — a Massey-Harris 44 and Co-op E3, tricycle front ends without ROPS. If I need to do field work, I use my newer John Deere utility tractor, which has ROPS.

Emphasize safety
The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, based in Minnesota, emphasized prevention of rollover tractor accidents and the need for ROPS in preparation for Farm Safety Week in September earlier this year.

Articles on the UMASH website reveal some surprising statistics. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates there are about 130 tractor rollover fatalities per year. Here’s the real surprise. NIOSH estimates there are 4.8 million tractors on U.S. farms. Of all those tractors, NIOSH data suggests that one-half are not equipped with ROPS. The information doesn’t break that data down further to indicate how many are older tractors, whether those older tractors are still in active duty on the farm and how many are smaller utility tractors on smaller farms. Remember that USDA’s definition of a farm encompasses tens of thousands of operations that ag economists don’t consider when counting the number of commercial farms in the U.S.

Perhaps the most startling statistic reported was that based on the NIOSH data, seven of 10 farms go out of business within five years of a tractor rollover accident. This illustrates the financial impact accidents can have on a family or farm operation in addition to the human suffering of the victim and other family members.

Despite all the campaigns to promote grain bin safety, which is a legitimate concern, tractor accidents remain far and away the leading cause of injuries on U.S. farms, and have for the past five decades. UMASH reports contend that farm tractor rollover incidents are the single most deadly incident on U.S. farms today.

ROPS save lives
Data compiled by UMASH researchers indicates that ROPS are 99% effective at preventing injury and possible death in case of a tractor rollover. That’s one reason ROPS were shared among manufacturers once developed. They are effective.

There are rebate programs in some areas to help defray the costs of installing ROPS on a tractor that doesn’t have one. Right now, however, rebates are primarily limited in the Midwest to Wisconsin and Minnesota. The maximum a farmer will pay if eligible for the program is $500.

You can learn about the ROPS rebate program at Even if you’re not eligible for a rebate now, the site offers information that could be helpful if you elect to install one on your own.

Comments? Email [email protected].

TAGS: Tractors
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