Colorado State University Agricultural Occupational Safety Center Leads National Public Health Campaign

Colorado State University’s High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety received $504,000 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health today to lead a group of 10 university-based agricultural safety and health research centers in a national initiative to prevent deaths and serious injuries from tractor roll-overs. The initiative, which aims to help prevent the leading cause of death and serious injury in U.S. agriculture, was announced this week.

The two-year NIOSH grant will help the centers build and launch a national public health campaign for preventing deaths and serious injuries from tractor-related incidents that are a leading cause of accidental death in rural communities.

Tractors overturning onto the operator, or people being run over, becoming entangled in power takeoffs and collisions with non-farm vehicles on public roads are the leading cause of death and serious injury in the nation’s agricultural industry. More than 250 farmers, family members and farm employees die annually in such incidents, half of them when a tractor overturns and crushes the operator.

"The funding will allow the NIOSH-supported Centers for Agricultural Disease and Injury Research, Education and Prevention and the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety to fill current gaps in their knowledge base and to explore new techniques to promote safer tractor use," said Steve Reynolds, director of the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, or HICAHS, at Colorado State University. HICAHS will lead the initiative.

Although no official statistics are available, University of Kentucky researchers estimate that 4.46 non-fatal injuries occur for every fatality caused by an overturned tractor. These injuries are often severe and disabling. They also can be financially devastating, causing immediate and long term medical expenses and the loss of family farms when an owner-operator is incapacitated.

Advancements in technology, such as rollover protective structures, or ROPS, can prevent death and injury from overturns. When used with seat belts, ROPS have proven effective at virtually eliminating fatalities and serious injuries. However, more than half the approximately 4.7 million agricultural tractors in the United States lack ROPS.

"We are pleased to support this initiative, which enables the centers to join in an unprecedented team effort on this compelling public health issue," said NIOSH Director John Howard. "Finding effective ways to promote tractor safety is a tremendous national challenge to which we and our partners are bringing new resources."

"By 2007, building on the results of this effort, we will be in a good position to seek the involvement of all the stakeholders affected by tractor injuries and fatalities: farm and safety groups, equipment manufacturers and dealers, government agencies and legislators, educators and outreach specialists, and most importantly, farmers, ranchers and their families. Together, we can make a difference," Reynolds said.

Under the newly funded initiative, the centers will:

– study the costs of injuries from farm tractor overturns and highway collisions and identify who bears those costs;

– assess the impact of changes in ROPS standards, regulations and technology and their effect on future ROPS availability;

– examine the acceptability and procedures for financial incentives to retrofit tractors with ROPS; and

– create a database of potential partners to help guide the planned national campaign and launch an intranet to facilitate communication about tractor safety among the centers.

The most ambitious of the projects, involving eight of the 10 centers, will test community-based social marketing in 36 venues across the United States. Social marketing seeks to influence behavior to benefit the intended audience.

"We are eager to see if we can use some of the techniques developed in the last few decades to sell tractor operators on safer practices," said Reynolds. "Unless we can begin changing attitudes and behavior, we are not going to solve this problem."

The centers represent a major NIOSH effort to protect the health and safety of agricultural workers and their families. They were established as part of a NIOSH initiative in 1990 to address the nation’s pressing agricultural health and safety problems. Nine centers located in every part of the country respond to the issues unique to each region. NIOSH also supports the National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety in Wisconsin. More information about the centers is available at More information on NIOSH is available at The National Agricultural Tractor Safety Initiative document, produced by the centers in 2004, can be found at The HICAHS Web site at contains more information about the center’s  research and service in Colorado and in surrounding states.