The Kentucky ROPS Project

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agriculture, forestry, and fishing remain one of the most hazardous industrial sectors, with a fatal occupational injuries rate that was more than 4 times higher than that of other sectors during 1992-2002. In 2002 alone, agriculture, forestry, and fishing recorded 22.7 fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers, as compared to 4.2 fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers in all other sectors. From 1992 through 2000, the fatality rate for agriculture in Kentucky reached an average of 62.3 per 100,000 workers per year – almost 3 times the national rate during the same time period (CDC/NIOSH, 2004).

Murphy and Yoder (1998) estimated that tractor overturn deaths account for more than one-third of all production agriculture-related fatalities in the United States. A roll-over protective structure in combination with a seatbelt can prevent nearly all tractor overturn-related fatalities and serious injuries (CDC, 1993). ROPS are sturdy, scientifically engineered frames attached to tractors or built into tractor cabs. They protect the operator from being crushed if the tractor overturns. Seat belts are used in combination with the ROPS to keep the operator within a protective “zone.” (Tractor manufacturers recommend that seat belts should not be worn when driving tractors without ROPS: e.g., Deere, 1994.)

The KY ROPS 1 Project produced a theoretically grounded and injury surveillance-based set of community education materials in partnership with farmers and other agricultural stakeholders. The intervention materials and methods were evaluated in a quasi-experimental randomized control design that involved repeated measures ANOVA on large random samples of farmers in two intervention counties and two control counties. The four classes of dependent variables included (1) changes in farmers’ knowledge and attitudes about the value of ROPS for preventing injury and economic loss; (2) changes in farmers’ contemplation of obtaining ROPS-equipped tractors; (3) changes in efforts to acquire ROPS; and (4) changes in the number of ROPS-protected tractors farmers acquired as determined from three independent data sources. Data for these variables were collected pre and post-intervention from a random sample of 1,227 farmers and by inspection of ROPS retrofit sales records. The ROPS 1 project also produced a wealth of data about the utility and effectiveness of the activities and multi-media materials that constitute the total program now known as the Kentucky ROPS Notebook.

The Kentucky ROPS Notebook materials stimulated interest in the issue of tractor overturns and the role of ROPS in reducing risk of injury and economic loss. The materials also promoted adoption of ROPS: Tractor equipment dealer records had revealed a total of 4 ROPS sales in the two intervention counties in the year prior to the community education program. Three years and nine months after the program’s inception, dealers in the two intervention counties had sold 81 ROPS to 79 farmers.

Further Dissemination and Evaluation of the Kentucky ROPS Project

In August 1999, Principal Investigator Henry P. Cole, EdD, was awarded additional funding for a four-year project aimed at further dissemination and evaluation of the ROPS project materials. Among other core activities, the ROPS II project included development and administration of the Kentucky Farm Tractor Overturn Survey to a random sample of 6,063 Kentucky farmers to determine the denominator of all overturns, fatal plus non-fatal, as well as the frequency of six categories of operator injury outcomes associated with these overturns. More information about the results of the ROPS I and ROPS II projects, or by visit National Ag Safety Data base.

The Kentucky ROPS project and its findings continue to inform and inspire work being conducted through the National Tractor Safety Initiative. This includes the recent two-year project Designing Community-based Social Marketing Programs for Tractor Safety (Dr. Chike Anyaegbunam, et al) and a study led by Dr. Henry Cole and Melvin Myers, MPA, on the Costs of Tractor Operator Injuries from Overturns and Highway Collisions.