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OSHA Continues Regular Inspections, Presses Regulation Limits In Citation

Over the past few years, we have seen a significant number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspections in Texas. One reason for the uptick is the much higher number of injuries being reported to OSHA in response to the agency’s new reporting rule. If you are unfamiliar with that rule, refer to the January 2015 edition of the Cotton Ginners Marketplace for a full discussion. This new rule has resulted in a dramatic increase in reporting across the United States.

According to OSHA, there were more than 10,000 injuries reported (from all industries) during the first year that the reporting rule was in effect. Prior to this rule, there were only a handful of injuries reported annually. As more injuries are being reported, OSHA is responding with more inspections. The good news is that many of these inspections are done in an expedited manner – using emails, phone calls and faxes. If you are able to satisfactorily answer all of OSHA’s questions using these communications, then, in our experience, the matter is settled without any violations. However, some of the inspections are still done in person, and whenever OSHA inspects in person, you will get a citation.

Enlist Help In Checking OSHA Citations
In the past, we have discussed the importance of having all OSHA citations reviewed by someone familiar with the agency’s agriculture regulations. In Texas, two gins received citations for violating the noise standard, which does not apply to agriculture. These citations were dismissed after a long battle in the OSHA legal system.
This past month, OSHA issued another citation to a gin for failure to have a confined space procedure in place for workers entering the press, module feeder and lint cleaner pits. Again, the confined space standard does not apply to cotton gins. Grain elevators are a different story. If a worker is going into a grain bin, there is a specific OSHA procedure that must be followed beforehand.

Fortunately, in this case we were able to meet with OSHA informally and discuss the citation. In the end, OSHA agreed that we were not subject to this rule and withdrew the citation. The OSHA area director said that she would have to check with her solicitors to be sure that OSHA had not previously cited a gin under this standard. In other words, if a gin had agreed to a confined space citation in the past, they would not agree to withdraw this citation. Fortunately, there have not been any other citations of this type in Texas.

Consider ‘Expedited Options’ Implications
This citation once again brought up how important it is to be sure your violations are valid before agreeing to the
penalties. In this particular case, the citation included an “expedited option,” where the company was offered a 40 percent instant reduction in penalties for a quick settlement. It is tempting to take that quick reduction and sign the violation, but doing so may put your company in a bad position by opening up problems for future violations of the same type. Had this company taken the easy way out, it would have been subject to the full confined space rule going forward, and be cited under that rule in any future inspections.

As the case closed, the gin actually ended up paying less than it would have under the expedited process. It was also saved from being subject to the full confined space regulation going forward. This gin’s action may have also saved your gin a lot of problems in the future.

If you are visited by OSHA and receive a citation, be sure to have your violations checked carefully by a knowledgeable person and take the time and effort to contest any that are not applicable to a cotton gin.

Kelley Green, director of technical services for the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association, contributed this article. Contact him at Kelley@tcga.org.

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Intern Seth Witt – Texas
August 2016 Internship Report
This summer at Coastal Plains Gin in Mathis, Texas, has been a great experience. I have learned more than I could have ever imagined. When I first started, I knew nothing about ginning and had never seen the inside of a gin. I cannot describe how grateful I am to everyone who took the time to share their knowledge with me.
Since my last report, I have learned so much more about cotton ginning. I completed the project that John Steelhammer gave me, which was to put together the OSHA employee training notebook. When we started hiring employees, I helped in the office by showing them the lockout training video and making sure they filled out all the necessary paperwork. Once ginning started, John gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. Each day I followed a different employee and learned their job.

Extensive Learning Experience
The first thing I learned was to bag, tie and tag the bales at the press. A few days later, I stood next to the head ginner and ginner’s helper where I was taught how to watch for knots in the gin stand in order to avoid fire and how to manage the flow of cotton to prevent choke ups. I went to the module feeder last and learned the struggles of unwrapping round bales.

We had a few minor break-downs during the first days of ginning, but we used the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) downtime to fix the issues and clean up. Once I learned every position, I helped wherever I was needed and made parts runs when something broke. In the evenings, I ran the scales and kept records of incoming modules and outgoing cotton seed.

Before I left, Daniel Luehrs took me to two other gins to see how they operated. I noticed how the equipment is all very similar, but the arrangement of each piece is completely different. Every gin I visited also had a different method for handling round bales.

I really enjoyed my time working at Coastal Plains Gin this year and learned that when you’re working with John Steelhammer, you’ll never go hungry because he makes sure you’re well fed.
This internship has been a great learning experience. I am extremely grateful for the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association, John Steelhammer and Johnny Shepard, as well as everyone else who made this opportunity possible. I look forward to more opportunities in the cotton industry and hope to find a career in the ginning industry some day.

Witt’s report appeared in the August issue of “The Ginnery” – Newsletter of the Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association.

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Cotton’s Calendar
2016
Oct. 12: Plains Cotton Growers Board Meeting, Lubbock, Texas.
Oct. 18-20: Sunbelt Ag Expo, Moultrie, Ga.
Oct. 19: PCCA Board Meeting and Delegate Body Meeting, Lubbock, Texas.
Nov. 15: Calcot Ltd. Board of Directors Meeting, Bakersfield, Calif.
Dec. 6-8: Cotton Board/Cotton Incorporated Joint Meeting, Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans, La.

2017
Jan. 4-6: Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Dallas, Texas.
Jan. 18-21: Southern Southeastern Annual Meeting, Charlotte, N.C.
Jan. 30-Feb. 1: Conservation Systems Cotton & Rice Conference, Baton Rouge, La.
Feb. 10-12: NCC Annual Meeting, Dallas, Texas.
March 3-4: Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, Memphis, Tenn.
April 6-7: Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association Trade Show, Libbock, Texas.