Evaluation of the tractor rollover protective structure rebate scheme 1997/98

Monash University Accident Research Centre – Report #155 - 1999

Authors: L. Day & G. Rechnitzer

Full report in .pdf format [20MB]

Abstract:

This report documents the results of on evaluation of the 1997/98 tractor rollover protective structure (ROPS) rebate scheme, funded by the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA). The evaluation objectives included describing the historical context of the current scheme, documenting the scheme uptake and tractors involved, and assessing the costs, the short and long term benefits, and the dollar savings of the scheme.

A combination of methods was used to gather the wide range of data necessary. The cost outcome analysis was conducted using the approach suggested by Miller and Levy, 1997. Two perspectives were provided: the societal perspective, and that of the VWA. Published injury mortality costs based on both the human capital and the willingness to-pay methods were used to provide an estimate of the cost of each tractor rollover death to society, whereas the costs to VWA were determined from records. Published and unpublished data were used to estimate the number of deaths expected to be prevented by the 12,129 ROPS installed during the scheme.

The 1997/98 scheme was extremely successful when measured against a number of criteria. The scheme reduced the number of unprotected tractors in Victoria by 70% from an estimated 17,420 to 5,290. The proportion of unprotected tractors in Victoria is now approximately 7%, compared with an estimated 24% at the commencement of the scheme. The demand for the ROPS rebates was substantially higher than in any previous scheme.

An estimated 2 deaths per year will be prevented by the 12,129 ROPS fitted, for a period of at least 10 years. The total cost of the rebate scheme was $7,877,344. If 20 deaths are prevented, $393,867 will have been spent per life saved. The lifetime cost per rollover death is estimated at $571,535 and $1,646,482 for the human capital and willingness-to-pay approaches respectively. These figures provide data on which to base comparisons of different preventive strategies.

The societal benefits go beyond these economic considerations. Psychological trauma, pain and suffering associated with tractor rollover deaths will be considerably reduced in Victoria. In addition, improvements in other areas of farm safety may occur due to the scheme publicity. The combination of increased farm safety awareness, and the strengthened partnerships between key organisations, may facilitate further farm safety initiatives.

The success of the scheme appears to be founded on a number of equally important and inter-related factors including prior partnership development, increasing impetus for farm safety, a good pre-existing level of ROPS fitment, ROPS regulatory amendments, publicity, and the rebate itself. This approach to tractor rollover prevention is unique to Victoria. General principles arising from this scheme that could be transferred to other initiatives are described and recommendations made for further activities.

Executive Summary

Introduction

As a result of the prominence of tractor rollover incidents in work related deaths in Victoria, and the demonstrated effectiveness of rollover protective structures (ROPS), the Health and Safety Organisation (HSO) initially, and the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) subsequently, undertook to increase the level of ROPS fitment to tractors in Victoria. This involved a considerable period of collaborative work with industry partners. The strategy developed included a combination of regulatory amendments, a ROPS rebate scheme and widespread publicity.

The regulatory amendments involved a change from a requirement for ROPS on all tractors manufactured or imported on or after 1 July 1981 (with some limited exemptions such as operation in an orchard), and for ROPS to be fitted where practicable to call tractors used by employees, to a requirement for ROPS to be fitted on all tractors including pre-1981 tractors), (with some limited exemptions) (Victorian WorkCover Authority, 1998).

The ROPS rebate scheme facilitated fitment of ROPS to previously unprotected tractors, via a rebate of $150 for each pre-1981 tractor fitted with a ROPS meeting the Australian Standard 1636. The fitment was required to be carried out by a member of the Farm Machinery Dealers Association (FMDA), or a qualified engineer or mechanic. Tractor owners could fit the ROPS themselves on the condition that a signed indemnity form was provided with the application.

The rebate scheme was supported by (1) a range of promotional activities including a television advertising campaign mounted by the Public Affairs section of the VWA, (2) a mail out of information and application forms to Victorian formers, and (3) the provision of information and application forms at farm field days by VWA field officers, and through other organisations including the Victorian Formers Federation (VFF) and the FMDA.

Monash University Accident Research Centre was contracted to undertake on evaluation of the 1997/98 rebate scheme, the results of which are reported here. The evaluation did not extend to include the costs and benefits of the new regulations mandating ROPS. The objectives of the study were:

  1. To describe the historical context of the current ROPS scheme
  2. To document the uptake of the scheme and the characteristics of the tractors protected
  3. To assess the costs of the ROPS scheme, including costs to the Authority, farmers and the rural community
  4. To assess the short and long term benefits of the ROPS scheme in terms of potential lives saved, psychological trauma averted, effects on general farm safety, and other aspects which may arise
  5. To assess the doctor savings of the ROPS scheme to the Authority and the community
  6. To identify any general principles of the approach used in implementing the scheme that would have the potential to be transferred to other workplace safety issues.

Methods

A combination of methods was used to gather the wide range of data necessary to meet the study objectives. Existing documents from the HSO, VWA, VFF and Farmsafe Victoria were referred to for historical data. A series of interviews with key individuals and organisations were held to gather information relating to the scheme itself, opinions regarding the proposed regulatory amendments, intangible benefits of the scheme, and the perceived effect of the scheme on general farm safety. The key groups included the FMDA, the VFF (Industrial and Legal Department), participating and non-participating farmers, farm machinery dealers, a rural psychologist and a farm family who have experienced rollover death (scheduled 17.12.98).

Rebate application forms provided information on the applicant (type of farmer, post-code), the tractor (make and model) and the ROPS (manufacturer, price and cost of installation). Characteristics of applicants and tractors involved in the scheme were defined from a random sample of 1212 rebate applications.

The cost outcome analysis was conducted using the approach suggested by Miller and Levy, 1997. Two perspectives are provided: societal and that of the VWA. Incidence data on tractor rollover deaths and serious injuries were obtained from VWA, the Victorian Coroners' Relational Database, and the Victorian Impatient Minimum Dataset. Other published date were used to further facilitate the estimation of the tractor rollover toll in Victoria.

The cost of fitting the ROPS was derived from data provided in the sampled applications, and the farmer interviews. The cost of implementing the scheme was gathered from VWA records.

Published data from a study of the cost of injury in Victoria was used to provide on estimate of the cost of each tractor rollover death (Watson and Ozanne-Smith, 1997). Estimates based on both the human capitol (direct costs plus lost productivity) and the willingness-to-pay (includes pain and suffering) methods were used. The costs of tractor rollover deaths to the VWA were derived from VWA records. Costs were not estimated for tractor rollover serious injury as the number of these each year is very small, and the impact of ROPS is mostly on prevention of death.

Two different approaches were used to estimate the number of deaths expected to be prevented by the 12,129 ROPS. First, published and unpublished data on the rate of rollover deaths per 100,000 tractors not protected by ROPS (unprotected tractors) were used in conjunction with estimates of the number of unprotected tractors remaining in Victoria to estimate the number of deaths expected to be prevented. Second, published data from Sweden on the tractor reliever death rate at varying levels of ROPS fitment was used to estimate the effect of decreasing the proportion of unprotected tractors by that attained with the fitment of 12,129 frames.

The effect of the scheme was assumed to be constant for at least the first 10 years, after which time the effect was assumed to diminish over a period of some 25 years, due to disposal of the tractors fitted under the scheme.

Since all intervention costs occurred in 1997/98, the published estimated costs of rollover deaths were adjusted where necessary by the consumer price index (obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on line service) to reflect 1998 values. In addition future benefits were discounted by 7%.

Results

The 1997/98 ROPS rebate scheme is one of a number of strategies adopted initially by the HSO, and subsequently by the VWA, since around 1987 as part of on integrated approach to addressing the issue of tractor rollover deaths specifically, and farm safety more generally. The approach has included information and awareness programs, education, and regulation (Victorian WorkCover Authority, 1998). The promotion of ROPS has featured strongly within the farm safety program, and has included three previous rebate schemes. The development of partnerships with key organisations including the VFF, FMDA, and the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, was on important foundation for the 1997/98 rebate scheme. The work of the HSO and VWA on farm safety and tractor rollover deaths has occurred during a time of increasing impetus in farm safety in Victoria, with the scope of awareness raising, implementation and research activities rapidly expanding.

The 1997/98 scheme was funded by the VWA and administered, under contract, by the VFF, with advice provided by a Steering Committee. The VWA appointed a project coordinator to develop on integrated strategy. The scheme was launched in April 1997 of Lardner, Victoria. A series of television advertisements and press releases developed and co-ordinated by the Public Relations section of the VWA formed the foundation for the scheme publicity.

The 1997/98 ROPS rebate scheme was extremely successful when measured against a number of criteria. This study found that the 1997/98 ROPS scheme reduced the number of unprotected tractors in Victoria by 70% from an estimated 17,420 to 5,290. The proportion of unprotected tractors in Victoria is now approximately 7%, compared with on estimated 24% at the commencement of the scheme.

The demand for the ROPS rebates was substantially higher than in any previous scheme, with the uptake rate for the 1997/98 scheme being four times that of the last rebate scheme in 1994. Penetration of the scheme extended well beyond the membership of the VFF, with 73% of applicants being non-members, and 21% being self nominated hobby farmers. All participant groups and organisations (farmers, farm machinery dealers, the VFF and the FMDA) were satisfied with the scheme, and problems of obtaining ROPS for the older model tractors were not overwhelming.

An estimated 2 deaths per year will be prevented by the 12,129 ROPS fitted, for a period of at least 10 years. The total cost of the rebate scheme was $7,877,344. If 20 deaths are prevented, $393,867 will have been spent per life saved. The lifetime economic cost per rollover death is estimated at $571,735 and $1,646,482 for the human capitol and "willingness-to-pay" approaches respectively. This cost outcome analysis should only be used as a tool to guide selection of effective interventions. It is not intended to be used as a justification for the prevention of rollover deaths.

The societal benefits go beyond economic considerations. Psychological trauma, pain and suffering associated with tractor rollover deaths will be considerably reduced in Victoria. In addition, improvements in other areas of farm safety may occur due to the scheme publicity. More importantly, the combination of increased awareness of the importance of farm safety, and the strengthened partnerships between key organisations, may provide a springboard from which further farm safety initiatives can be launched.

Discussion

The success of the scheme appears to be founded on a number of equally important and inter-related factors. The combination of regulatory amendments, publicity, and the rebate clearly provided the impetus to action required to increase ROPS fitment. While the regulations themselves, and the perceived threat of subsequent enforcement, were significant factors, the effect would not have been as dramatic had these strategies been used in isolation. There had been considerable development of the necessary partnerships over previous years, and the scheme was implemented at a time of increasing impetus in farm safety in Victoria. Previous schemes had familiarised the community with the principle of rebate schemes, and had in effect served as pilots for this largest effort. Further, the scheme, and especially the regulatory amendments, was implemented at a time when the proportion of tractors fitted with ROPS was already more than 50%. Most importantly, there had been a change in the acceptance of compulsory ROPS fitment within the VFF, prior to the move made by the VWA towards regulatory change. This approach to tractor rollover prevention has been unique to Victoria.

The benefits arising as a result of the ROPS scheme appear to for outweigh any potential disbenefits. Potential disbenefits include the possibility of some increase in non-fatal tractor rollover injuries, and predicted minimal risk of widespread resistance to further farm safety initiatives.

The current ROPS scheme has not addressed two factors contributing to the effectiveness of ROPS as an intervention for tractor rollover deaths. First, different types of ROPS have varying degrees of effectiveness eg, a cabin meeting the rollover standard will be more effective than a four post or two post ROPS in keeping the tractor operator within the safety zone during a rollover incident (Springfeldt, 1993). The vast majority of ROPS fitted under the scheme were two post ROPS. Second, the effectiveness of ROPS, particularly four and two post ROPS, is greatly enhanced by the use of seat belts. Interviews with the farmers conducted in this study indicated that the proportion of tractors with seat belts in Victoria is low, and that even if it was high, the potential benefits of seat belts are not well recognised and the predicted use is extremely low.

Governments have traditionally found difficulty in forming working partnerships on health and safety with the agricultural industry. Consequently, there is merit in examining the principles arising from the rebate scheme that could be transferred to other farm safety initiatives, and possibly more broadly to other work related injury prevention programs. These principles include

  • involvement of key players from the early planning stages
  • Recognising and using opportunities
  • Developing acceptance of the proposed intervention prior to implementation
  • Creation of a receptive environment for the intervention
  • Using a combination of strategies (regulatory amendment, publicity and education, and financial incentive, and perceived enforcement)
  • The need to thoroughly review implementation plans for potential difficulties and barriers and then to address these prior to implementation
  • Provision of frequent updates on all aspects of progress to the key players and to the intervention target audience
  • Close monitoring of implementation so that the target audience con be quickly alerted to any arising issues

The following further activities are recommended on the basis of this study:

  • Implementation of a public communication strategy regarding the impact of the rebate scheme and the new ROPS regulation
  • Issuing of a hazard alert regarding potential impact of the altered clearance height of tractors retrofitted with ROPS
  • Continued surveillance of tractor rollover deaths to confirm the anticipated decrease
  • Continued surveillance of tractor rollover serious injuries to monitor for any increase
  • Capitalising on the combination of increased awareness of the importance of farm safety, and the strengthened organisational partnerships, by developing and implementing a comprehensive farm safety strategy

Sponsoring Organisation:  Victorian WorkCover Authority