Foundation donates $15,000 to Penn State tractor-safety program

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Westfield Insurance Foundation, an Ohio-based private foundation, has made a major contribution to a project developed by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences to help save farmers lives.

A check for $15,000 was presented to Aaron Yoder, project coordinator, and Dennis Murphy, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Safety and Health, to support the ROPS Retrofit Program for Pennsylvania Farmers. The program provides rebate funds to install rollover protection structures, or ROPS, on tractors.

Farming is a dangerous business -- farmers are eight times more likely to die while working than the average American worker, Yoder noted. Tractor overturns are the leading cause of these deaths. In fact, national data confirm that the risk of fatal tractor overturns is highest in the northeastern United States.

The ROPS program is well aligned with Westfield Insurance Foundation, as Westfield Insurance is a property and casualty insurance company and top writer of farm business in the United States, according to Westfield Insurance president and leader Ed Largent.

"Our business is about helping individuals and businesses recover after the unexpected happens, but insurance can't save a life," said Largent. "That's why Westfield Insurance Foundation supports safety programs that prevent risk and stop tragedies from happening in the first place."

More than 40 percent of tractors in Pennsylvania lack rollbar protection, Yoder pointed out. "We know how to stop these fatalities -- simply get a rollbar on each tractor," he said. "Rollover structures, along with seatbelts, have been proven to be 99 percent effective in preventing fatalities in the event of a tractor overturn."

And that is the goal of the ROPS Retrofit Program for Pennsylvania Farmers, which was kicked off in January 2011 at the Keystone Farm Show at the York Fairgrounds. Murphy said the project is making headway, and the Westfield contribution will accelerate the pace of retrofitting tractors with rollover protection structures.

"Seventeen rebates have been issued from the funds donated to the program previous to the Westfield contribution," he said. "There are still 166 cases pending in the system. Of these pending cases, 67 farmers have received price estimates, and we are waiting to hear back from them. The other 99 of these farmers are on a waiting list for rebate money."

A ROPS is designed to limit a roll by 90 degrees, so that if a tractor rolls, it would fall onto its side or end, according to Yoder. "The protective equipment is beneficial for all farmers, not just farmers who live in areas with a lot of hills," he said. "Even if you're pulling something out of the ground with it hitched improperly, the tractor could roll over backward."

The intent of the program is to make life-saving tractor equipment affordable and simple to order, he explained. The rollover-prevention equipment generally costs between $800 and $1,000, sometimes matching the value of a farmer's tractor. "It's not cheap, and that's one reason why more farmers don't always use the safety equipment," Yoder explained.

"Many farmers don't want to go through the hassle of ordering and installing the equipment," he added. "But farmers should consider the ROPS as inexpensive insurance, like health and life insurance."

Through the ROPS Retrofit Program, farmers are reimbursed 70 percent of the cost of their ROPS kit -- a roll bar and seat belt -- up to $765.

The rebate program in Pennsylvania is modeled after a similar program in New York, which was implemented more than four years ago and has equipped more than 800 farm tractors with ROPS. Thus far, the Pennsylvania program, including the Westfield Insurance Foundation contribution, has received nearly $43,000 in donations.

Other financial supporters of the ROPS Retrofit Program for Pennsylvania Farmers include Farm Family Casualty Insurance Company, Land O' Lakes, AgChoice Farm Credit, Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit, Montgomery County Farm Bureau, Central Susquehanna Community Foundation and Marlboro Mushrooms.

"It's hard to overstate the need for tractor-rollover protection in the commonwealth," Murphy said, citing statistics. "One in 10 farmers will overturn a tractor in his or her lifetime, and 80 percent of tractor rollovers happen to highly experienced tractor operators.

"And the results are devastating. Seven of 10 farms are out of business within one year of a rollover fatality to the main operator. And one in seven farmers involved in a tractor rollover is permanently disabled."

For more details, visit http://www.ropsr4u.com online, or call the toll-free ROPS Rebate Hotline at 877-ROPS-R4U (877-767-7748).

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Last Updated February 27, 2012