"When I hit the bottom, the tractor started to flip over backwards and I thought in that point in time if I stay in this seat, I'm not going to survive," farmer Don Tetreault recalled.
The memories of Tetreault's rollover are still as fresh today as they were 19 years ago. The New York farmer was compressing a bunker of silage when his tractor slipped off. His story is a common one. Tractor rollovers are the single deadliest type of injury on farms in the U.S., with about 250 rollover fatalities a year.
The Northeast region with its hilly and unpredictable terrain has the highest rate of tractor rollovers. And that's the biggest cause of death on the farm.
Rollover Protection Structures-- or ROPS-- are big metal bars that go over the operators seat, and used with a seat belt are considered the best protection. The University of Vermont Extension launched the Rebates for Roll Bars program-- the second of its kind in the country-- to address the problem. Under the program farmers can be reimbursed for 70 percent of the cost of buying a roll bar and seat belt kit. That's a savings of nearly $800.
John May, a doctor with the New York Center for Agriculture Medicine and Health, is spearheading a nationwide effort to educate farmers. From talking with farmers he says there are several reasons why they don't retrofit their tractors: cost and the hassle of finding the right parts.
"The final one of which is a big one-- is the firm belief that it's going to happen to someone else and not to them. Particularly experienced farmers we hear it over and over again; 'I've been doing this for thirty years, it's not going to happen to me.' But in point of fact-- it does," May said.
Tetreault says he was also in denial. But the poster farmer for this new campaign says he now knows better.
"It can and will happen-- especially when you don't think it's going to happen. I mean that's one of those things you never know," he said.
While all new tractors since 1986 have the roll bars and seat belts as standard equipment, many of the older models are over half a century old and will continue to be used well into the future.
"Come back to think about those young people, spouses and potentially grandchildren that are going to be on those farms and maybe driving those tractors. It's not going to happen to me, I know what I'm doing, it's not going to happen to me. But what if they're driving? Take that into consideration," said Diane Bothfeld, the deputy secretary of the Vt. Agriculture Agency.
Protecting the next generation of farmers.
The program has raised about $60,000 so far. That's enough to retrofit about 75 to 100 tractors. To find out more about the Rebates for Roll Bars program -- www.ROPSR4U.com -- OR -- 1-877-ROPS-R4U.
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