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Keep Your Fingers Out Of The Machinery

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Tommy Horton called me recently and said Dr. Tommy Valco, who normally writes this column, needed a break, and since he was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find a replacement – would I write a report for the September issue? How could I refuse a request like that?

I’m writing this at the end of July to make the September issue. In July, gins across the Cotton Belt are trying to wrap up their repair season (except for the Lower Rio Grande Valley, which has ginned at least 10 percent of its 2011 crop by now) but by mid-September most cotton gins should be about ready to crank off the season.

By the time gin managers read this article, many of you are probably engaged in one of your last responsibilities before the start of the season – hiring new employees to fill out your gin crews.

Anyone who hires new people knows that getting the right ones is something of an art form governed by the laws of chance. BUT – once a ginner makes a new hire – how do you train them to keep their cotton-pickin’ fingers out of the machinery? It is a given that good people are the gin’s best asset, and it is also a fact that most accidents happen with new and inexperienced employees. There are a lot of training materials and resources available to ginners, but I wanted to find out how successful and competent gin managers (that would be managers of any of the 700 gins currently operating) actually trained new hires.

I couldn’t talk to all 700 managers so I conducted a carefully designed scientifically valid sampling study – which meant I took the input of the first four or five gin managers whom I could get to answer the phone out here in the western states. Ginners are special people, and each manager had his own unique opinion on training new people. Here is some of what I found:

• All of the managers took safety and safety training very seriously, and the end result was most had not had a lost- time accident in several years.

• Extensive use of safety videos and publications available from the National Cotton Ginners Association (http://www.cotton.org/ncga/) as well as training resources available from state ginning associations, depending on where the gin is located.

• All video and classroom type training occurred and was signed off on before new employees went into the gin building before the start of the season.

• Most continued with regular safety meetings of some kind during the ginning season.

Some individual manager comments were:

• Rule No. 1 – If something is choking and jumping – stand back and let it finish until everything is stopped, and the power is off and locked out.

• Returning crew is a huge factor and key to a safe and successful season.

From a historical perspective, the present industry focus on safety has made some real differences. You can no longer tell an experienced ginner by how many fingers, hands or arms he has lost and, due to many fewer accidents, workman’s comp rates are significantly lower.

Good people are our best asset, and this scientific survey has shown that the industry is doing its best to take good care of them. So here’s wishing you a safe and productive gin season and remember to keep your cotton pickin’ hands out of the equipment.

– Ed Hughs is director of the Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory in Mesilla Park, N.M. Contact him at ed.hughs@ars.usda.gov or (575) 526-6381.

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