Knowing the ROPS: How retrofitting older tractors saves lives in Agriculture

"The Deere tractors and the ROPS are engineered for the tractors and for the safety of the tractors in rollovers," stated Paul Mattern, the general manager of John Deere Gooseneck Implement located in Dickinson. (Matthew Curry/The Dickinson Press)

Tractors are the main cause of accidental deaths on farms. Over the years, many farmers, farm workers and others living on or visiting farms, have been killed or seriously injured falling from moving tractors, run over by tractors, or crushed when a tractor rolls sideways or backwards.

According to annual industry safety reports, a significant majority of deaths reported concerning tractors result from rollovers.

Despite the dangers, Tractors remain a key component of labor in the agriculture industry — specifically on North Dakota’s western Edge where many older tractors remain in use for land clearing, cultivating and livestock feeding. Fortunately, the Roll Over Protective Structure, which has been around since the 70s and 80s has prevented numerous deaths and kept related injuries to relatively small numbers.

As of 2020, there are three types of ROPS that can help protect the tractor drivers. The two-post, four-post and ROPS with enclosed cabs are all made to help ensure the safety of the driver and the tractor. The most common ROPS is the U-shaped two-post which is sold on the majority of modern tractors.

Paul Mattern, the general manager/sales director at the John Deere Gooseneck Implement, located in Dickinson, urged the importance of having the device on the tractor for the drivers.


“It will save their life, pretty simple,” Mattern said. “The idea of a ROPS is the same from back in the 70s … it’s to protect you, I'm sure the protection is better than it used to be.”

Mattern said that the biggest modification that could be seen on the more advanced ROPS devices is the smaller and adjustable system found on smaller tractors.

While the device is intended to be a long-term usable tool, just like the tractor itself, the ROPS device will need to be maintained and checked for cracks and rust. The weld areas specifically are places that need to be checked periodically during maintenance. If weaknesses or damage is spotted, the device should be changed immediately to ensure the safety of the driver.

Other ways of preventing injuries, according to Mattern, is for tractors that do not have a buddy seat to avoid having multiple people in the cab, ensuring that the tractor is off when hooking and unhooking implements and to keep loaders at the lowest position possible while the tractor is in motion. Tractors with the loaders raised to elevated levels in movements are more inclined to cause tipping, which could lead to serious injuries for those operating the machine.

The occupational fatality rate in agriculture remains 800% greater than in all other industries combined, according to recent statistics.

Tractors manufactured before 1985 can and should be retrofitted with ROPS and seat belts. The tractor dealer should be able to assist in acquiring the appropriate ROPS and seat belt kits.

For more information about ROPS systems, speak with a qualified tractor specialist or dealer.


Matthew Curry is a sports reporter and photographer for the West Central Tribune.
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