SWAT Program: MaxYield Coop Creates Team of Safety Apprentices

MaxYield Cooperative, West Bend, IA (800-383-0003), in 2015 developed the Safe Workplace Apprentice Team (SWAT) to improve the company’s safety culture and create a succession plan for safety personnel.

According to Tom Winkel, who has served since 1993 as safety director for the coop’s 23 grain facilities in Iowa, the SWAT program consists of three apprentices – one from each of MaxYield’s areas: Central, East, and West – who work and learn under his direction.

Safety Apprenticeship

“Our three safety apprentices retain their roles; this is just extra training and guidance,” explains Winkel. “We could have hired an assistant safety director, like some larger companies do, but we wanted to cross-train multiple employees and spread the positive impact throughout the company.”

With these employees trained to understand the role of a safety director, the coop has a succession plan that allows safe operations to continue in the event of a safety apprentice or safety director leaving the company or being absent from work. “We know we can have apprentices fill in for each other or myself, as needed,” he says, “and things still can go smoothly. We consider our safety apprentices to be relief pitchers in the bullpen. They can do the job when called upon.”

Standardized Safety Program

The SWAT program works in conjunction with MaxYield’s existing safety program, which includes regular safety meetings and hands-on training. “It’s important to be creative with your approach to safety training to keep things fresh for your employees,” adds Winkel, “so we vary the topics and medium of training often among classroom lecture, video, demonstration, etc.”

While the company’s safety curriculum is tweaked regularly, Winkel describes the program overall as highly standardized.

“Whether it is myself or an apprentice performing safety training, it is delivered in the same manner and completed in the same amount of time.”

Seeing the Benefits

“I am very happy with how we are progressing,” he says. “We live and breathe a healthy safety culture, and the SWAT program will only continue to enhance it.”

Winkel adds that he is encouraging SWAT members to attend meetings of the Ag Cooperative Safety Directors and Grain Elevator and Processing Society. “They’ve also completed a 10-hour safety class from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), along with an annual three-hour OSHA refresher course.”

In addition, Winkel encourages SWAT apprentices to engage with staff from OSHA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “I want them to know these people on a first-name basis,” he adds, “so MaxYield can maintain a proactive partnership with these agencies.”