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Safety a critical component of grain elevator work

Published 5/2/2012

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

Chris Martinez, elevator manager at the Garden City Co-op, takes his job seriously — and not only from a customer service viewpoint, but also in terms of safety.

Martinez is passionate about preventive maintenance and housekeeping, which are absolute essentials in terms of preventing explosions like the October 2011 grain elevator explosion in Atchison that killed six workers and left two others hospitalized.

"It has been a real big emphasis with OSHA lately, just for the simple fact ... the elevator explosions that have been happening in the industry. They've cracked down on us a whole lot, but from our standpoint, the Co-op's standpoint — we're up to par, we're where we need to be," Martinez said.

OSHA, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, recently cited Bartlett Grain Co. L.P., owner of the Atchison facility, with five willful and eight serious safety violations.

According to an April 12 news release from OSHA, the willful violations included allowing grain dust — which is nine times as explosive as coal dust — to accumulate; using compressed air to remove dust without first shutting down ignition sources; repeatedly starting and stopping inside bucket elevators to free legs choked by grain; using electrical equipment inappropriate for the working environment; and failing to require employees to use fall protection when working from heights.

The serious violations involved a lack of proper preventive maintenance, certification and lubrication of grain-handling equipment; inadequate emergency action plan training for employees and contractors; a lack of employee and contractor training on job hazards; and a housekeeping program that was deficient because it did not prevent grain dust accumulations.

"The deaths of these six workers could have been prevented had the grain elevator's operators addressed hazards that are well known in this industry," U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said.

Three elements must be present in order for an explosion to occur: dust suspended in the air, atmospheric conditions and an ignition source, so Martinez said eliminating just one of those elements would prevent such an incident.

"All three elements have to be present in order for a dust explosion to occur, but with one of those elements not present, you've just saved yourself,'" Martinez said. "... Whenever we run grain, we clean up afterwards. When our load-out bin gets filled up, we clean. But whenever we're at our downtime and ... the elevator is clean, that's when it's time ... to do your preventive maintenance, check all your rollers, check everything that needs to be checked."

According the OSHA news release, grain dust is the main source of fuel for explosions in grain handling. This dust is highly combustible and can burn or explode if enough becomes airborne or accumulates on a surface and finds an ignition source; such as a hot bearing, overheated motor or misaligned conveyor belt, or heat/sparks from welding, cutting and brazing operations. OSHA standards require that both grain dust and ignition sources be controlled in grain elevators to prevent potentially deadly explosions.

"It's basically lack of cleanup, lack of housekeeping," he said. "If you stay on top of your stuff, if you're responsible and take care of what needs to be taken care of, you take care of 90 percent of the possibility of your facility going sky high."

There have been relatively few elevator explosions in Kansas, but Martinez said that he never wants to get to a point where safety is not at the forefront of his mind.

"If you get into that mentality, 'oh, that will never happen to me,' that's when you'll start to slip because it can happen to you," he said. "... I want my guys to go home the same way they came in ... I have no tolerance for anyone who doesn't want to abide by our company's procedures ... It's my job to ensure that it doesn't happen and I will do whatever possible to ensure that, even if that means I have to let someone go."

During harvest, some work as many as 100 hours per week, so at that time, Martinez keeps an even sharper eye on his employees.

"During harvest, working the long hours, you can sense when your employees are starting to drag, so I tell them, 'go home, take a nap, come back tomorrow. I need you fresh and energized,'" he said. "'... I'm not going to put you in a position where I'm going to overwork you and ... have something happen to you.'"

Martinez also prides himself on providing exceptional customer service to the farmers who store grain at the facility.

"It's farmer-owned. That's why we make sure our farmers are well taken care of, that their needs are met, and if it means going overboard ... then go overboard to help them," he said. "But if it causes you to take safety out of the picture — and they also know that, too. They are the ones who are enforcing our safety program, so they know what needs to be done ... they are very aware of our needs, as well."

Mike Deaver, who farms in Plymell and Pierceville, and is a board member of the Garden City Co-op, said that Martinez does a great job at the facility.

"He's just very, very energetic and helpful ... caters to our needs as best he can," Deaver said. "He runs a nice clean ship there and he keeps it that way, and we trust people like that to take care of our grain and everything."

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Found 1 comment(s)!

Grain subject

(UPDATE)
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Carl Dixon
Ph. 870 684-2695
Cell 870 219-6206
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Posted by: Carl Dixon on 5/23/2012