A commitment to safety

by Emily Wilson
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Workers at facilities that handle grain should never take safety for granted.

"It (safety) is the essential element that delivers us safely back to our homes at the end of each working day," said Mark Daniels, director of health and safety for Cenex Harvest States, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S., and chairman of the Grain Elevator and Processing Society’s safety, health and environment committee.

Safety has always been a concern for the grain industry, Daniels said, but a special emphasis was given to safety in the 1970s after a series of grain-related accidents. The industry allocated millions of dollars toward researching grain dust explosions. "What was already a pretty strong foothold (on safety) became even stronger," Daniels said.

GEAPS, an organization for grain operations professionals based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., sponsors an annual safety awards program that recognizes facilities that complete the year without a lost-time accident or injury. The awards are presented at the group’s Exchange conference and trade show. At this year’s conference in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S., 229 facilities at 30 companies throughout the United States were recognized.

This year, GEAPS added a new category to its safety awards: long-term commitment. This award recognizes companies that have the most cumulative years of accident-free performance. Of the eight U.S. grain facilities receiving the award this year, all but one facility — a Cargill elevator — belonged to Bunge North America’s Grain Division.

The Bunge facilities recognized for their safety record were Huffman, Arkansas; Hickman, Kentucky; Bernie and La Grange, Missouri; and Yazoo City, Mississippi, each with 14 consecutive years of safety awards; St. Charles, Arkansas, 16 years; and Fountain Bluff, Illinois, 18 years.

In an interview with World Grain, Richard G. Kerwin, senior vice-president of Bunge North America, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S., and general manager of its Grain Division, and James E. Maness, assistant vice-president, corporate safety and compliance, Bunge North America, discussed the company’s commitment to safety.

"We are committed to actively promoting and supporting effective safety programs in order to provide a safe and healthy workplace for our workers," Maness said.

Bunge’s safety philosophy is simple:

 All accidents and injuries can be prevented.

 All employees are responsible for safety.

 Providing a safe and healthy workplace is essential to its business.

"The importance of safety to any company cannot be overstated," Maness said. "Being safe makes good business sense."

Safety awareness directly affects a company’s "bottom line," he said, by reducing injuries and property and operational losses. An injured worker means higher medical costs, lost time wages and replacement costs for labor or property damage.

"Avoiding injuries means not having to operate facilities short-handed or find a replacement for the injured worker on short notice," Maness said.

There are other "intangible" losses, such as the cost and time to train a new worker, loss of productivity, increased insurance costs, time spent dealing with the injury instead of work and potential costs of regulatory oversight.

"It is estimated by safety experts that every dollar incurred in direct injury or accident results in three dollars of intangible losses," Maness said.

But the biggest benefit to be derived from its emphasis on safety is having a workforce that is proud of its working environment, he stressed. "We do not want any of our workers to be hurt and suffer the pain of injury or loss in quality of life for themselves or their family."

Kerwin added, "It is our firm belief that a safe plant and operation will help to ensure good morale and a positive attitude among workers. This will affect the company in many ways, including ensuring better operations and improved productivity, and enhancing our ability to retain and attract top quality employees."

Bunge’s safety philosophy has been the basis for establishing a safety culture at each of its grain facilities. "Safety begins the first day an employee joins the company," Maness said.

Each worker must go through a comprehensive safety orientation, which includes viewing a company safety video and learning about potential hazards associated with their initial work assignments. Training also is essential.

"Policies and procedures are not effective unless personnel having received proper and thorough training," Maness said.

Workers receive safety handbooks that spell out safety rules. For jobs in which special precautions may be needed, specific safety procedures are outlined in a safety manual.

"Based on experience, we know that there are many critical tasks which run the risk of serious injury if proper safety procedures are not followed," Maness said.

Bunge’s safety manual addresses critical subjects, such as the proper use of lockout, guidelines for performing hotwork (cutting and welding), procedures for safely entering confined spaces or grain storage areas, and the use of personal protective equipment.

While all Bunge elevators are required to follow corporate safety procedures, some flexibility is allowed. "The basic requirement is that facilities must meet minimum corporate safety guidelines but are free to exceed them, as they deem necessary," Maness said.

Some facilities often establish local safety rules to address their specific operations or conditions. Each facility develops its own emergency action and written housekeeping plans. Each location also has a monthly safety meeting, at which employees are encouraged to identify safety concerns and provide input when additional safety measures are needed.

"We firmly believe that Bunge is a better company because of the strong emphasis our management places on the company’s safety program," Maness said.