By Matt Reese
When it gets hot out, safety glasses, gloves and long sleeves may not be comfortable. And it can be really frustrating on a busy day to make sure to take the time for locking out a machine. Prioritizing safety is not always easy or pleasant.
“I have 41 years in the business and I have seen a lot of things in my career. The main thing is that we want to see everyone going home without getting hurt. I have seen too many injuries and close calls. I teach about the short cuts and what could happen,” said Greg Lowe, risk coordinator for Sunrise Cooperative. “Lock out tag out for example — before you work on machinery you want to make sure it is locked out before you go and work on it. It may take 10 or 15 minutes to get everything around to put a lock on it and get the key, but it only takes a second for somebody to hit the button and if you have your arms in there working on an auger the outcome is not good.”
Lowe relentlessly emphasizes wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and following proper procedures for performing tasks because the results of not doing so can be devastating. In terms of PPE, follow the label.
“You’ve got shop cleaners, diesel, thinners, gasoline, pesticides, fertilizer — those are all parts of the every day farming industry. You have to read the labels because there are so many of those chemicals. We work with hundreds of them,” Lowe said. “Skin irritation is one of the biggest things and long term exposure to some things can cause health problems. PPE protects you from exposure to the chemicals so you don’t get reactions or rashes from the chemicals and the label provides instructions on what PPE is needed. For example, for 2,4-D you need a long sleeve shirt and a chemical resistant apron. And even though it may not have it on the label, you want to wear gloves with everything you do. You always want to have long pants and work boots on too. Roundup Quick Pro calls for protective eyewear, chemical resistant footwear, long sleeves and long pants. There are some, like the insecticide Seeker, where you have to wear a respirator.”
Anhydrous ammonia is a potentially dangerous and common farm chemical that needs to be treated with care. At Sunrise, neoprene gauntlet style 14-inch gloves and non-vented goggles to protect the eyes must be worn when handling ammonia. When working with anhydrous ammonia, careful attention to wind speed and direction is important — never get downwind of it.
Even with the proper PPE, there is still need for caution.
“You always want to make sure if you are handling chemicals that you wash your hands with soap and water even if you have gloves and all of the proper PPE on,” he said. “You can still get chemicals on your hands if you are doing everything correctly.”
There are different types of PPE depending on the job and where it is performed.
“The proper equipment for confined spaces is very crucial. If you are going to enter a bin from the top you need a harness and a lifeline and a spotter,” Lowe said. “In all of our grain facilities we require hard hats because of the potential for falling debris and employees are required to wear high visibility clothing so they can be seen when farmers are coming into the elevators. If they are welding, grinding or cutting in the shops, they wear appropriate safety glasses, face shields and earplugs. We supply all of that. Guys pretty much police themselves. Our guys are not afraid to speak up and tell others if they are not wearing PPE.”
The need for proper PPE is emphasized regularly at Sunrise locations.
“We train hard with the employees on what to wear and we tell them we are doing it for their protection. It is the same as working on a farm. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt handling a chemical and mostly the guys do a really good job with it,” Lowe said. “It has to be on your mind at all times. If you decide to take that shortcut, you have to stop and think who all will be affected. Getting hurt affects more than just you. If something goes wrong it could affect you, and others, for the rest of your life. You have to have a safety culture.”
Getting that safety culture firmly established takes investment of time, energy and funding from the top down said Steve Crouch, safety manager for Sunrise Cooperative.
“The safety culture starts with the upper management. George D. Secor, our CEO/President, is all about family and our employees going home safe in better or the same shape as when they arrived. We have total buy-in from our CEO because he knows safety is important for our employees and it is also good business,” Crouch said. “Then the safety team comes in to conduct risk evaluations of all the locations and we drive home to the managers the safety culture. Getting buy-in from the location managers is huge. Then they take it from there and run with it. If you have a bad manager who does not care about safety, your injury rates are high.”
Getting good employees is another important part of the safety culture.
“We perform extensive background checks including: drug testing, motor vehicle reports, background checks for any employee before they hired. That helps us bring in good workers,” Crouch said. “And we have adopted a policy that safety is the first part of every meeting, regardless of the topic. We also do monthly safety meetings for OSHA requirements including PPE for a half hour or hour. We have a drug and alcohol training with our insurance company, an annual grain refresher four-hour course for everyone on the grain side. We look at how to properly fit and harness and store harnesses and lanyards. We have hazard awareness training, and emergency action plan reviews annually at all locations. We work closely with our insurance company on defensive driving training.”
Sunrise also just added a new safety app for all full-time employees.
“The idea is to involve everyone with safety. The app allows them to do safety audits for their area and it gets all of our locations on the same preventive maintenance program,” Crouch said. “They get a reminder on their phone to conduct a checklist.”
The Sunrise safety culture extends beyond employees to farmer customers.
“If we are requested by a farm we will go and help them with safety issues,” said Crouch. “We also have customer appreciation days and a big thing prior to planting, we supply customers with the same PPE we are wearing.”
The mundane (and sometimes bothersome) task of wearing PPE and following proper procedure to the letter only happens consistently when emphasized by the culture.
“One thing I stress to the safety team is that we are not the police. I want the safety team to be welcomed. Our team is a tool and resource for all employees and incident rates are down and when you show up at a location and have people greet you and ask questions, that tells me we have a good safety culture going,” Crouch said. “We always try to remember that whoever you are, you have a loved one waiting on you. Are they expecting you to come home? These little things hit home. They start thinking about others and that changes the safety culture. In our most minor infractions, PPE can be a challenge, especially with new hires. But we give employees empowerment: if you see something say something. That is huge. We can’t be everywhere at all of our locations. Out of our 531 employees we only have three people on the safety team looking out for them, but in my philosophy every one of the 531 employees in on the safety team.”
This is the fifth story in a series of safety related articles in cooperation with the Ohio AgriBusiness Association and its members.