Each year almost 250 Americans lose their lives from injuries in tractor accidents, including rollovers, runovers and collisions. According to the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center nearly half of tractor-related deaths occur from rollovers. That statistic is a major contributor to another statistic that should alarm us here in farm country: The occupational fatality rate in agriculture is close to 800% greater than in all other industries combined.

That fact suggests that if we could reduce tractor-related deaths, farm safety statistics would improve dramatically.

Aaron Yoder, an associate professor of biological systems engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an associate professor of environmental, agricultural and occupational health at UNMC, said there are ways to prevent rollover fatalities.

Just make certain every tractor is equipped with the correct rollover protective structures and buckle up seat belts.

“Research from around the world shows that death and serious injury are virtually eliminated when rollover structures are installed and seat belts are worn,” Yoder said. All tractors manufactured after 1985 were designed to include rollover structures. Those structures never should be removed or modified — welded, cut down, etc.

Modifying a rollover protective structure can rob it of its ability to protect the tractor operator in an accident.

Yoder suggests periodic inspections to make certain tractors’ rollover structures are in good condition. Rust and cracks are signs the rollover structure may not be in good enough shape to protect an operator in a crash.

Just as important as checking the rollover structure is making certain seat belts are in top running order and that operators use them religiously. Rollovers are extremely dangerous events. A tractor operator who forgets to buckle up will be tossed about during a rollover and could be crushed beneath his or her tractor. That’s how hundreds of victims are killed in accidents involving passenger vehicles. Without the seat belt to keep them inside, victims are ejected and then are crushed when the vehicle rolls over them.

Although tractors manufactured before 1985 didn’t come out of the factory with rollover structures, tractor dealers can assist in acquiring the appropriate structure and seat belts.

Here’s a sobering thought. A victim who survives a tractor rollover can expect average losses of $900,000 with the combined cost of medical care, lost time and property damage. Yoder said cost-share programs make the average cost of installing a rollover structure about $391. More information on retrofitting and rebate programs can be found at ropsr4u.org.