Sunday, October 17, 2021

Promote Gin Safety On All Fronts This Season

coronavirus
Courtesy University of Michigan

Most ginners are part of many organizations. Churches, clubs and service groups are all part of our lives and tend to have seasons. Maybe they are active spring, summer, fall and winter. Or perhaps like your ag organizations, they have two meeting seasons pinched between harvest and planting. We began the last of the summer meeting sessions recently, and it was great to see everyone face to face for a change.

In this month’s article, I’m going to hit a couple of topics we really need to keep front of mind. The first is that even though I pray we may be through the worst of COVID, it’s still with us. We must deal with it whether we like it or not.

You, as ginners — whether you’re the manager or the plant superintendent or the guy or gal working on the press — must get the cotton ginned. We have to treat this gin season similar to how we treated last season as far as COVID is concerned.

We need to keep the gin running! The best way that can happen is to follow many of the same protocols we had last year. Keep groups of employees together, stagger shift changes, minimize congregating in break rooms, disinfect and clean.

The variants of the virus going around (delta is the one that’s prevalent as I write this) seem to be better at getting by the vaccines than expected. The positive note is that if people are vaccinated, the risk of bad illness or death is much less than without the vaccines. So keep up the vigilance. The safeguards you implemented last year will help minimize the negative impacts this year.

If you had to shut down even following those precautions, odds are you won’t this year (assuming most are vaccinated). If you had a hiccup and lost a shift, likely you won’t lose the whole shift this year … provided you keep up with protective measures. That’s all I’ll say on that.

Put Safety Ahead Of Productivity

The other topic is safety. I know … I know, I’m the guy who keeps writing the safety articles. But maybe that’s because that’s how I got into the ginning business. Being in this industry for more than 30 years now and being involved in safety for at least most of that time in one way, shape or form, we’ve seen a LOT of improvements. We rarely see one-armed ginners today.

We rarely see people with hands in gin stands, lint cleaners or belts. We’ve improved in so many ways, but we obviously still have room for improvement. Rarely is not the same as never. Let’s see if we can make this year the year no one has to call the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report a fatality or a serious injury.

It starts with management attitude. A good written safety program followed up with management doing things safely carries a lot of weight with employees. When management is the first to put safety ahead of productivity, the rest of the crew will follow. So even though it seems like we just finished the last season and the new one is (or almost) here, think about your safety attitude.

What message are you sending as a leader in the gin? Is getting the job done at all costs the message? Or is rewarding good, safe work more of a priority? Have you ever thought about making a big deal about doing the right thing?

Employer Responsibility

I know these comments seems preachy. But I’m currently attending a safety conference where a young woman explained how workplace accidents don’t just affect the employee and employer but their family and friends as well.

She lost her dad to a workplace accident. She was given a scholarship from a charity that is supported by the group putting on this conference and is now a teacher.

Our employees are our responsibility. They may only work for us for a season. They may be migrant workers who show up every year. They may be H-2A workers that we won’t see again. But they have parents, kids, spouses and siblings who depend on them. You depend on them, too. Let’s set the right attitude.

Work on that safety program and keep to it during the season. Evaluate what didn’t work after the season is over and improve on it for the future. Let’s make this year the one we can say was the first time we didn’t have to call OSHA during the entire season, coast to coast and top to bottom.

Dusty Findley, CEO of the Southeastern Cotton Ginners Association, contributed this article. Contact him at 706-344-1212 or dusty@southern-southeastern.org.

TCGA Summer Interns’ Final Reports

The Texas Cotton Ginners’ Association Summer Internship Program has hosted more than 30 individuals since it began in 2008. This year’s interns, Daylan Schulz and Lane Fischer, shared their initial and midterm experiences in August and September. Here are their final reports.

Daylan Schulz — Texas A&M University

I recently wrapped up the final week of my TCGA summer internship, which has truly been an unforgettable experience. In the past few months, I met so many people who helped pack my summer with valuable information and experiences.

Specifically, I want to thank Mr. John Steelhammer and Mr. Paul Schwertner for allowing me to learn and evaluate first-hand how they run their specific gins on a day-to-day basis. I would also like to thank Mr. Aaron Nelsen for giving me the opportunity to take part in this internship, as well as placing me at these two locations with such great people.

When listening to Mr. Nelsen speak at an Agriculture Systems Management Club meeting last spring, I remember him saying how tight knit the cotton industry is. After an entire summer working with individuals in cotton gins, I now have a better understanding of exactly what he meant by that statement.

I remember the first portion of my internship in Mereta, Texas. After spending only five weeks with Mr. Schwertner and his employees, I did indeed feel like I was part of their family. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly.

I spent the second half of my summer in Mathis, Texas, with Mr. Steelhammer at Coastal Plains Gin. I found the same to be true there — a group of people who treat each other like family. Leading up to cotton harvest, I helped complete the finishing touches on the gin.

One task included replacing an outside cyclone, which took up a great deal of time due to its size and location. I also assisted other employees in replacing a section of the screw conveyor that ran across the top of the gin stands.

The constant rain that swept across South Texas this summer was just enough to keep cotton out of the gin during my time there. But we managed to stay busy. When I left, local farmers were preparing for cotton harvest, and ginning was about one week away. I will never forget Mr. Steelhammer’s hospitality and numerous stories he shared with me.

I will always cherish this past summer working at cotton gins during my TCGA internship. I appreciate the skills and information I learned along the way and will apply them to my career after I complete my degree next spring at Texas A&M. More importantly, I appreciate all the wonderful new friendships I made. Thank you for the opportunity!

Lane Fischer — Texas A&M University

I want to thank all of the people I have met along the way for their hospitality and welcoming me into the industry. Continuing my work at Taft Gin and preparing their module storage yard for the upcoming season, I calculated the needed grades that would be cut into the module yard to allow for proper drainage.

I met with a local contractor to discuss how he should move dirt on the field with a John Deere 770 Grader.

After completing the prep work, Mr. Taubert asked me to continue working on the module yard to design the placement of the groups of rounds. I began by retaking measurements of the yard at the gin and a remote yard.

I did the math and made a calculator to see how many 8×24 groups I could fit at each site. Finally, I marked out the blocks on the yard and made maps for the module truck drivers.

While working on the module yard project, I also spent time working in the gin. The seed flow rate to the seed barn had been an issue in the past, so Mr. Taubert asked me to learn how to use a magnehelic gauge to measure the airflow through the seed pipe. I took initial readings from various places on the pipe. We determined the seed blower speed needed to be increased.

After changing the sheave on the blower motor, I took the same readings again, and the air flow was in an acceptable range. Now that Taft is ginning, Mr. Taubert confirmed that the seed is flowing much better to the seed barn.

Uncooperative weather did not allow me to see cotton run through the gin, but I learned a great deal about the industry and the workings of a gin specifically. After finishing the internship, I will begin my fourth year working toward a biological and agricultural engineering degree from Texas A&M.

I expect to graduate in May 2023. I want to give a final thank you to the TCGA and everyone I met along the way for the opportunities and experiences I had the pleasure of receiving.

TCGA provided this information.

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