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High-Tech Safety in Fields and Orchards: NIOSH Advances Innovative Rollover Guard

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
December 03, 2003

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is advancing the development and commercialization of a high-tech system to protect tractor operators from serious injury or death in a tractor rollover, the leading cause of occupational fatalities in agriculture.

The system, called Auto-ROPS, consists of a sensor wired to a protective metal bar, shaped like a squared, upside-down U and mounted behind the tractor seat. The protective bar is commonly referred to as a rollover protective structure (ROPS). In normal circumstances, the Auto-ROPS bar sits no higher than the operator’s head. However, its arms have the ability to telescope upward on compression springs when unlatched.

When the sensor detects that a tractor is tilting on uneven terrain in a way likely to result in a turnover, the sensor signals the latches to release. This release deploys the rollover bar to a level higher than the operator’s head. Instantaneously activated, the bar prevents the operator’s head from fatally striking the ground or bearing the impact of the rollover. Rollovers account for more than 100 deaths in farming every year.

“ROPS are fundamental protective equipment for tractors, but the two traditional versions – fixed ROPS and manually adjustable ROPS – both pose complications that Auto-ROPS is designed to overcome,” noted NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D.

“For example, farmers may find fixed ROPS physically impossible to use in orchards and other settings where clearance is low,” Dr. Howard said. “A manually adjustable ROPS provides some flexibility in that it can be lowered in such settings, then raised when the tractor moves onto open ground, but the farmer still needs to remember to raise it, and to take time to do so. The new Auto-ROPS prototype, which NIOSH developed in close partnership with the farming community and equipment manufacturers, represents an ingenious use of high tech to meet those challenges.”

NIOSH evaluated the prototype earlier this year in successful field tests that compared it with traditional ROPS. The tests involved simulations in which remotely controlled tractors without occupants were overturned in ways that could occur in actual operations. The tests showed that the sensors operated reliably, that the bars deployed to levels higher than those where most operators’ heads would be positioned, and that the bars met industry standards for withstanding the impact and weight of overturns.

NIOSH also asked a group of farmers to compare the Auto-ROPS with a manually adjustable ROPS system. The farmers said they believed that the Auto-ROPS was more effective than the manually adjustable version, and that it provided better protection. Under an agreement signed in June 2003, NIOSH and FEMCO, a McPherson, Kansas, ROPS manufacturer, are working with tractor and power equipment manufacturers to determine ways to bring the technology to commercial use through marketing in the agricultural industry.

Further information on the technology is available from Tony McKenzie, Ph.D., safety research engineer, NIOSH Safety Research Division, at tel. (304) 285-6064 or email Further information on other NIOSH research to prevent traumatic injuries in agricultural operations is available on the Web.

Auto-Rops Testing Videos

Video 1
Auto-ROPS rear view test

Video 2
Auto-ROPS side view test

Video 3
Auto-ROPS first usage by West Virginia Farmers