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OSHA Pushes The Envelope With Enforcement Actions

It has been almost a year and a half since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued two violations for noise in South Texas. Two cotton gins were cited for noise levels, and OSHA is saying it wants these ginners to require all workers in their plants to wear hearing protection. This is in spite of the fact that OSHA’s hearing protection standard does not apply to agriculture and that cotton gins are considered agriculture by OSHA. The fact that the cotton gins were following OSHA’s own guidance to agriculture related to noise does not seem to help either.

The big issue here is that OSHA has never set a noise level for agriculture. Exposure time and duration are very important when determining noise limits, and agriculture is simply too seasonal for OSHA to have picked a level in the past. Under today’s OSHA, their inspectors have changed tactics. Rather than go through the work of developing a noise standard for agriculture, they simply issue two citations despite having no standard, and the two companies were actually following OSHA’s own guidance on the subject. In the citation, OSHA says that the gins are too loud and under the general duty clause, it believes hearing protection is necessary.

First Noise Citation For A Gin
Fighting these types of citations is expensive, and a company typically will settle rather than go through the time, expense and strain of an OSHA hearing. In this case, however, the ginners feel strongly that they cannot settle. If OSHA wins this case, it will have successfully cited an agricultural operation for noise and may decide to start citing them for noise more often. As far as I know, this is the first noise citation we have ever seen in a gin, but make no mistake – OSHA is not just interested in cotton gins. If OSHA wins this case, it can use the same logic for any agricultural operation.

These cases have also moved further than any OSHA case I have seen. Each case has been scheduled on the docket to be heard by a judge, and both cases are scheduled to be tried in early 2016. We are hopeful that only one case will be heard, and that the judgment will be used for both cases. But the timing is tricky, and the attorneys keep moving the schedule around. Hopefully, we will have a favorable ruling from the OSHA judges in the next few months and will finally get these cases behind us.

Be Aware Of Your Options
It is a sign of the times that OSHA can take a case where the company is doing exactly as the agency recommends and still cite them. This is the new way that OSHA operates. If you are visited or inspected by OSHA, keep this in mind and be sure to talk to your association staff or your legal folks before making any types of violation settlements with this agency. OSHA may be citing you for something that has never been against the rules, and you need to be aware of your options before making any agreements.

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

Pacific Ginning Co. Gin Manager Ron Nimmo Passes Away
On Dec. 26, Pacific Ginning Co. gin manager Ron Nimmo passed away after a long battle with cancer. Ron was a board member and past chairman of the California Cotton Ginners Association.

Ron has been called an “innovator” and a “wonderful person and friend” by his colleagues. Truer words were never spoken. He will be sorely missed by this Association, his colleagues and the entire cotton
industry in California.

Snowpack And Current Reservoir Conditions Encouraging
In January, the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations reported that the electronic readings of the Sierra Nevada snowpack on Dec. 23 show that its statewide water content was 9.3 inches, which was 112 percent of the Dec. 23 historical average.

In looking back at 2015, below-normal precipitation and warm temperatures throughout the winter months combined to create a historically meager snowpack, according to the Department of Water Resource’s records. The snowpack at the start of February and March was only 23 percent and 19 percent of average, respectively, on those dates. By April 1, when the snowpack typically is at its peak, electronic readings showed the snowpack’s water content was only 5 percent of normal for that date, the lowest on record. El Niño needs to keep on coming!

Cotton’s Calendar
2016
Feb. 5-7: NCC Annual Meeting, Dallas, Texas.
Feb. 26-27: Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, Memphis, Tenn.
Feb. 29-March 3: Cotton Board Meeting, Memphis, Tenn.
April 7-8: Texas Cotton Ginners Association Trade Show, Lubbock, Texas.
June 7-9: Cotton Incorporated Meeting, Dallas, Texas.
July 31-Aug. 3: Southern/Southeastern Board Meeting, Amelia Island, Fla.
Aug. 2-4: Cotton Board/Cotton Incorporated Meeting, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Aug. 24-26: NCC Board Meeting, Memphis, Tenn.

2017
Jan. 4-6: Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Dallas, Texas.
Jan. 18-21: Southern/Southeastern Annual Meeting, Charlotte, N.C.
Feb. 10-12: NCC Annual Meeting, Dallas, Texas.
Feb. 28-March 1: Cotton Board March Meeting.
April 6-7: Texas Cotton Ginners Association Trade Show, Lubbock, Texas.
June 6-8: Cotton Incorporated June Meeting.