Farm safety is name of the game

Wheat straw balling
PLAY IT SAFE: Lifelong farmers don’t think twice about operating their equipment, but maybe they should. A collaborative effort from the University of Nebraska has resulted in the creation of a virtual reality game to present potential risks in everyday operations.
A virtual reality platform aims to prepare nursing students, and alert farmers about risks.

Kevin Schulz | Jun 07, 2021

Fewer people experiencing farm labor and the risks that go along with it creates a dilemma for those called upon to care for those who may be injured in a farm incident.

The worlds of video games, science and health care have converged for the development of a tractor-driving simulation virtual reality game with support from the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health.

The VR game is a collaboration between the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Nursing and College of Public Health, and the University of Nebraska Computer Science and Engineering Senior Design team.

While the main crux of the game is to allow a wider public the experience of driving a tractor and the inherent risks involved, albeit virtually, Sue Schuelke, assistant professor in the UNMC College of Nursing, hopes the video game named Rollover Ranch prepares nursing students for what they may face if a victim of a tractor rollover is brought into their care unit.

Fun and functional

Yes, Rollover Ranch is “fun” as users can play mini games to collect coins or race cows, but it’s also functional as users drive their way around the farm, completing various tasks such as feeding cows, herding cows, fixing a center pivot, clearing a fallen tree or putting out a burning scarecrow — and doing so while trying to avoid a tractor rollover.

According to data from the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH), tractor rollovers are the single deadliest type of incident on farms. A press release from UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources adds that the National Agricultural Tractor Safety Initiative reports that tractors cause about 50% of all farmer deaths and 130 deaths annually.

Tractor rollovers also make up 44% of all farming injury incidents. (Notice the use of “injury incident” as opposed to “accident,” as safety experts believe the use of “accident” implies that the event was not preventable.)

Schuelke feels the lack of agriculture knowledge and unfamiliarity with the workings of farm equipment put future nurses at a caregiving disadvantage.

“Our aim for our research project, which was funded by a grant from CS-CASH, was really to increase the knowledge of our student nurses in injuries and also on health promotion and preventing those injuries,” she says.

Along with the VR game, information is presented in the classroom setting to students, who will be surveyed before and after lessons to gauge the increase of their knowledge.

“So in essence, they can help take care of patients, and even more importantly than taking care of the patients post an injury, is helping them prevent those injuries,” says Schuelke, who has firsthand knowledge of farm safety, or sometimes the lack of, as she was raised on a farm in the Waverly, Neb., area. She is also married to a farmer.

Rollover Ranch

Rollover Ranch has been created by senior computer science and engineering students over the past year as a way to engage and capture the interest of nursing students, Schuelke says. Rollover Ranch is available on the Quest platform for use with VR headsets by Oculus, which is a Facebook property.

Aaron Yoder says there have been other attempts at creating such tools to raise awareness of farm safety, but as the grant funding of such projects dries up, so does the momentum of the product. Yoder is an associate professor at UNMC in the College of Public Health and Department of Environmental Agricultural and Occupational Health.

To keep the momentum going with Rollover Ranch, Yoder stresses the importance of getting it into the hands of target audiences who will benefit the most from the game and the lessons to be learned.

Schuelke says the College of Nursing will be taking the show on the road, so to speak — first to the UNL Ag and Science Family Field Day at Haskell Ag Lab at Concord in June and then to Husker Harvest Days in September.

Nursing students from both the Kearney and Lincoln divisions will be at HHD “to do a number of things, blood pressure screenings, skin cancer screenings, you know, health promotion activities, and then we will put people in the headsets, have them play the game and then we will talk about tractor safety, and some of the behaviors that improve safety and some behaviors that do not,” Schuelke says.

Safety games

Yoder sees Rollover Ranch in its infancy as to what it can bring to the farm safety world. As word got out, interest has been coming in from a variety of entities. The Nebraska Public Power District would like to integrate power line safety “as that is a big issue when farmers are moving long grain augers around by grain bins with overhead power lines,” he says.

Yoder would also “like to see roadway safety, both from the automobile’s perspective and the tractor driver’s perspective, because we know that’s an issue I think we’d like to tackle with VR to train student drivers or anybody else that’s driving automobiles, as well as with our tractor drivers, just to help to try to reduce those type of crashes.”

For Rollover Ranch, or any educational format to take hold, it needs to reach as many people as possible, and Yoder says success relies on how well this platform is marketed to the general populace.

“One cool thing about this is there is gamification to it,” he says, “so it makes it fun to learn. Nobody wants to just sit in a safety meeting; and they tell you, ‘Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this.’ This exposes you to the information in a more engaging way.”

To find out more about Rollover Ranch, visit