Safety Survey: Unbreakable Tenets Support Top-to-Bottom Safety Culture

Following established guideposts helps support a strong safety culture. Grain Journal asked four safety professionals for their perspectives on the unbreakable tenets that set the tone for safe operations at their facilities.

Curtis Stahel | Safety Director | Ag Partners Cooperative, Inc. | Seneca, KS

“Our safety motto is, ‘Someone expects you home tonight.’ Whenever the safety team talks about safety, we stress to everyone that families, friends, pets, and farm animals all expect you home, and what you do at work drastically affects what happens at home.

“We also stress our anhydrous ammonia policy. Whenever an employee goes up on the riser stand or transfer station, they must wear goggles and gloves. No matter who you are or your pay level, if you’re seen without these safety items, you will be terminated on the spot. We move a lot of anhydrous ammonia, approximately 24,000 tons, and any time maintenance or repairs are done on an anhydrous ammonia system, goggles and gloves are required. Our employees understand the importance of this policy, and thankfully nobody has ever broken the rule.

“We’re always trying to do refresher safety training for our employees. We use periodicals, policies, and procedures to stress the relevant topics for the season.”

Jim Holliday | Safety and Compliance Manager | Aurora Coop Elevator Co. | Aurora, NE

“We tell our employees, ‘If you haven’t been trained, don’t do the job.’ Sometimes, particularly when we’re in a hurry, we ask employees to do a job, but we don’t always know if they’re trained. However, we tell them to let us know if they haven’t been trained to do a particular task.

“We also tell employees, ‘If you see someone doing something unsafe, you’re expected to stop them.’ This is regardless of a person’s title or position. If they see the CEO doing something unsafe, it’s an employee’s responsibility to stop them before a potential accident or incident occurs.

“Finally, when it comes to personal protective equipment (PPE), we stress that employees always need to wear the appropriate PPE. Follow the rules and wear PPE regardless of how quickly a task can be completed. Always take the time to be safe.”

Steve Crouch | Safety Manager | Sunrise Cooperative Inc. | Uniopolis, OH

“Developing and reviewing procedures must include the employees who do the work – who better to write a procedure? How can I justify telling someone how to do something without ever performing the work myself? The key is to gather the employees performing the work, have them set the steps, and then the safety department can decide how to perform those steps safely and determine PPE.

“No safety program will ever be successful without support from the top – the CEO, board of directors, and senior leadership team. To simply have a safety program in place due to necessity will never be successful. It’s like walking on a treadmill – you’re actively moving but not getting anywhere. Interaction with senior leaders and effective communication to control costs are vital components of a safety program. Always share incidents and accidents with senior leadership and all employees so prevention can be achieved. I have a team of three risk coordinators, but every employee is a member of the team. A safety culture won’t grow without total buy-in from the top.

“We strive to teach awareness every day. We have the ability to track when, where, and how incidents occur. I call this the Monday/Friday syndrome – these are the days when most incidents occur. It’s crucial for all employees to check in whenever they clock in, especially on Mondays and Fridays. I often ask employees, ‘Are you okay? Who is the safest person you know?’ I want them to say, ‘I am.’ Carry your loved ones with you throughout the day so you go home safely at night.”

Mitch Allen | Operations and Safety Director | Northern Partners Cooperative | Mendota, IL

“My first unbreakable safety tenet is to not take shortcuts. In the industry today, we’re shorthanded, and it’s hard to hire people. When people are busy, they tend to take shortcuts to get things done. A job might take 5 minutes, and the paperwork for it might take 15 minutes, but we still don’t want people to take shortcuts. We do a lot of followup. Trust, but verify, that people are doing things the right way. Right now, we have a crew of six rather than eight. We need to make sure they’re doing things correctly, particularly when it comes to bin entry.

“The second tenet is zero tolerance. There are certain safety policies or procedures that we have zero tolerance for ignoring. These include bin entry, confined space, lockout/tagout, and hot work. There’s a 100% chance of disciplinary action, if our employees ignore safety policies and procedures in these areas.

“I’m out in the plants daily to see what’s going on and to create an environment where I help when needed. Employees need to know that I’m there to help with whatever needs to be done. I’ll pick up a shovel, repair a conveyor, dump trucks, load trucks, and run the dryer – whatever needs to be done.”

- From the July/August 2021 GRAIN JOURNAL