Safety Is An Unattainable Goal…

Safety is an unattainable goal….(warning long editorial to follow)

I was taking in one of my favorite leisure activities this weekend (watching NASCAR) when the subject of safety came up. Driver safety is the most obvious focus of resources in the design of the gear and the cars themselves. Then comes the safety of the spectators and crews. That was the topic that caught my attention as I was working on the honey-do list for this weekend. Jeff Burton made a statement, during the pre-race show, that I think we tend to lose sight of and that was that “Safety is an unattainable goal”. He went on to say that it is something that we must strive to achieve and always improve on. As soon as you think you’ve made it safe, that’s exactly when you need to start worrying. That statement resonated with me.

A few years ago, I heard it put a different way. I was at a meeting of ag engineers and was in a committee meeting that had a lot of ag equipment manufacturers in it. One of the designers was lamenting the fact they continued to get hit with law suits from people doing, in his opinion, stupid things with their machine. He put it this way. We put chains, shields, guards, covers, signs and stickers all over this thing and as soon as we think we have it idiot proofed, they go and invent a better idiot.

Whenever you are doing any sort of work (by definition the transfer of energy) you have the potential for something to go wrong and someone could get hurt. Cotton gins have a lot of moving machines and things going on both on and off season. We need to be always vigilant in how things get done. The equipment manufacturers, the Associations, your insurance carriers all have resources you should use but we don’t have everything for every situation. Someone in your organization needs to always be thinking about safety and they way people do their jobs. Safety is an unattainable goal. This means that there won’t be a check list or pre-written procedure for every activity so you may have to make it up as you go. MANY of the things we do (particularly in the off-season) don’t have written procedures and just how the task will get done is improvisation. Most of the time just figuring out how to do it is tough enough…how to do it as safe as possible never enters the mind.

Safety is an unattainable goal also means that accidents happen and we need to learn from them. We try to do that every single time we go to investigate or work with a member on an OSHA inspection. The idea is that not only the gin that had the accident learns from the accident but Association staff learns from it and then (hopefully) every member can learn from it too.

I’m writing this as an editorial of sorts today. We (in the southeast) have had more than our fair share of injuries and fatalities in the past year. We’ve had a lot of attention been drawn to the safety in gins by OSHA and insurance carriers because of it. I’m not sure we’re any worse in the long term than ever but a streak of bad luck has shone a spotlight on us. Safety is where I came into this industry (if you don’t count my great grandfather owning a gin in South Carolina) and so I’ve been working on gin safety for nearly 25 years. I take it personally when this industry I’ve had a career representing seems worse than it really is.

Safety is an unattainable goal but it is a goal that is worth the effort. We must keep our attention on that goal, even if it seems like that light up ahead is more likely a train than the end of the tunnel, we owe it to ourselves and our employees to head toward it. As we move head long toward another ginning season, lets not just think about how to do a job but how to get that job done safely. Ask the question “Can it be done safer or what could possibly go wrong?”. I may never see a season where all of our industry gets through a year and we give out no-lost-time accident awards to EVERY SINGLE GIN but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to get there (that’s why we write these articles after all). Lets try to get there together. Every little bit of improvement is a step further down the path to that light that may just be the light at the end of the tunnel and not a train after all.