Maybe it’s an over-used cliché: Safety is no accident.
Then again, maybe it’s not, when you consider that a cotton gin probably has more moving and potentially dangerous parts than anything else ag-related.
The Memphis-based Southern Cotton Ginners Association (SCGA) certainly agrees. That’s why a formal, structured and on-going safety program was implemented in 1990.
“It has to start with a commitment at the top,” says Larry Davis, SCGA safety director. “It requires a strong manager, and we have that.”
Davis has been with SCGA since 1993.
“Just getting started is probably the hardest thing,” he continues. “But after you get rolling, you get into the flow and recognize the things that need to be done.”
SCGA’s program begins with training in the spring, moves to seminars in August and on to on-site inspections when the gins crank up. This is a free service offered to the roughly 250 gins that the Association represents.
An effective safety regimen starts with something as simple as good housekeeping. And that’s the first thing Davis stresses in training, seminars and on-site inspections.
“The first thing you see when you walk into a gin — and you can’t help but notice it — is general housekeeping,” he says. “We like to see the gin cleaned at least once a day. Ideally, we’d like to see continuous cleaning, and a lot of gins do this. Just by keeping the floors swept, you keep them from becoming slick. That by itself eliminates many falls. Plus, you can see where you are going and you are breathing cleaner air. There is a straight correlation – the cleaner the gin is, the safer it is.”
The Walk About
When Davis does on-site inspections, he comes at it from two different directions: The first would be through the front door where the gin stands are most prominent. And the second would be through the back door where the press is located.
Many machines in modern gin stands are equipped with switches that will not allow a door to be opened until the machinery has come to a complete stop. That may not be the case with older machinery.
“Every year, somebody that has been ginning for a long, long time gets careless and gets a hand stuck in a lint cleaner,” Davis says. “So one of the priorities would be to see that lint cleaners are covered and someone should check regularly to see that they are.”
The bale press is where most of the employees will be located, and with the exception of the module-feeder area, may be the most hazardous. Eye wear is highly recommended, along with steel-toed boots. Earplugs may be a benefit in other areas.
Ensuring the Insurance
Insurance carriers also send inspectors to gins, and it would not be unusual for an OSHA inspector to drop by unannounced.
“We emphasize that our program is not just about limiting your risk,” says SCGA executive vice president Tim Price. “It’s about ensuring that you are an insurable business. If you don’t have an aggressive program in effect, you may not be approved for financial services. That is the big picture.”
In cases of injuries, the SCGA safety program can serve as proof of due diligence, says Price.
“If you go through the basics and keep records, you can avert a huge percentage of civil litigation simply because you did what was right,” he explains.
The worst thing a gin can do, both Davis and Price say, is not have a viable safety program in place. The second worst would be to jump through all the training and inspection hoops and then not implement and document what has been learned.