KY FACE #97KY028
Date: 1 July 1997
Subject: Farmer Killed When Tractor Slides Over Embankment
A 56-year-old part-time farmer was killed when the tractor he
was driving overturned while mowing. Using a rotary mower attached
to the John Deere 1520 tractor, the farmer mowed an area near
the roadway that had a gradual downward slope. The tractor was
not equipped with a Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) or seatbelt.
After mowing two rows, he made a left turn to begin the third
pass when the back tire began to slip in the moist soil underneath
the grass. Due to the momentum and weight of the tractor and
attachment, the farmer was unable to stop the vehicle. It slid
18 feet toward the edge of a steep 9-foot embankment. The tractor
flipped over the edge and landed upside down, pinning the farmer
beneath it. An occupant of a car driving by saw the overturned
vehicle and went to a nearby house to call for help. Rescue personnel
were dispatched to the scene at 1:45 pm and arrived in 15 minutes.
Finding no vital signs, the coroner was summoned to the scene
to pronounce the victim dead. In order to prevent similar events
from occurring, FACE investigators recommend that:
On 3 March 1997, FACE investigators were informed of a 56-year-old
male who had been killed in a tractor rollover. An investigation
was initiated and a site visit made on 27 May 1997. An interview
was conducted with the coroner who was present at the scene.
Photographs of the scene were viewed. Copies of select photos
were obtained along with a copy of the coroner=s
The victim was a longtime principal of a local vocational school
and had retired two years ago from his position. He planned to
farm part-time after retirement and enjoy the extra time off.
He had been involved in farming all of his life and was experienced
with operating tractors and other farm equipment. In a joint
agreement with a close friend, the farmer leased land to raise
cattle. The victim was married and had been in good health.
He owned a John Deere 1520 tractor that was reportedly in good
condition. This model was manufactured during 1969-1973. It
has a 45 hp engine and a weight of approximately 4400 pounds.
The tractor was not equipped with a ROPS or seatbelt. The rotary
mower attachment was manufactured by New Holland.
On the day of the incident the weather was warm and pleasant.
Since it was a nice day, the farmer decided to mow the pasture
land that he leased to raise cattle. Although he had mowed this
land many times before, this was the first time he was going to
mow it this year. There had been some light rain during the previous
day which made the ground moist. After lunch, he drove the 1520
model John Deere tractor with a New Holland rotary mower attachment
to a section of land that was near the roadway. Although the
tractor was kept in good working condition, it was not equipped
with a ROPS or seatbelt. The section of land where he began mowing
was bordered by a wire fence along the road and gently sloped
downward to a wooded area about 40-50 yards from the roadway.
The terrain was fairly even except for an embankment bordering
a dirt path which led from the road toward the woods. The height
of the embankment from the dirt path was 9 feet with a slope of
45 degrees. It was covered in tall grass and weeds so it was
difficult to discern the edge when on top of the embankment.
It is estimated that the farmer arrived at the pasture shortly
after 12:30 pm. He unhooked a section of the fence to drive the
tractor through and then started mowing the first row parallel
with the fence. He mowed two rows in this pattern and began to
make a sharp left turn to begin a third pass when the wheels began
to slip in the moist soil beneath the grass. At the point where
he began the turn, he was 6-7 yards from the edge of the embankment.
The tractor=s wheel
left a gouge in the grass indicating that he slid 18 feet toward
the embankment then flipped over the edge. The vehicle and mower
landed upside down, pinning the victim underneath the tractor.
An occupant of a passing car saw the overturned tractor and went
to a nearby house to call 911 for help. Rescue personnel were
dispatched at 1:45 pm and arrived on the scene at 2:00 pm. Finding
no vital signs, the coroner was summoned to the scene to pronounce
the victim dead.
CAUSE OF DEATH
Cause of death as given on the coroner=s
report is neck fracture and depressed head injuries due to tractor
Recommendation #1: Older tractors should be retrofitted
with ROPS and seatbelts.
Discussion: A Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS)
is designed to protect the operator in the event of a turnover.
A ROPS is only effective when used with a seatbelt which ensures
that the operator remains in the protected zone of the ROPS.
A ROPS kit is available for this John Deere model 1520 tractor
for $375 plus shipping and installation charges. In this case,
it is likely that if the tractor had been equipped with a ROPS
and the farmer had been wearing a seatbelt, he would have avoided
During 1994-1996, 74 Kentucky farmers were killed in tractor-related
incidents. Of those incidents, 41 were tractor overturns; nearly
all of those farmers could have avoided fatal injury if they had
been wearing a seatbelt while operating ROPS-equipped tractors.
Recommendation #2: Prior to beginning work, the
area should be assessed for hazards.
Discussion: An assessment of the terrain in an area of land that had not been used over an extended period of time could alert the farmer to hazardous conditions. In this case, because this was the first time the area would be mowed since winter, an assessment of the land could have indicated any changes in terrain. It could have also revealed that even though the grass was dry because the weather was warm and sunny that day, the ground beneath was still somewhat wet which could have alerted the farmer to take extra care in driving the tractor.