Employees help Bingham Coop transform workplace safety

From left to right, Wyatt Croft, safety specialist at Bingham Cooperative, Jim Grauberger, fertilizer operations manager, and John Hudson, agronomy plant manager, stand in front of the emergency ladder and exit they had built to give their facility a second means of escape. Grauberger suggested the exit when Croft solicited ideas from cooperative employees about how to make the facility safer, and Hudson helped implement it.

BLACKFOOT, Idaho — Many of the Bingham Cooperative employee safety suggestions collected during a three-month safety challenge required no financial investment to implement, or were completed for as little as 49 cents.

Some improvements, such as an $18,000 investment in a secondary exit at the cooperative’s Blackfoot fertilizer facility. Other improvements were identified during an audit to obtain Responsible Ag certification, which emphasizes safety and environmental stewardship. Bingham should have its Responsible Ag certification by the end of this month.

Safety specialist Wyatt Croft said the challenge has transformed the cooperative’s safety culture, with 109 ideas implemented at its Blackfoot and American Falls locations by the April 1 deadline.

Ideas ranged from significant investments in infrastructure, such stairwell rehabilitations, to simple ideas such as modifying the workplace traffic flow or adding new warning signs.

Bingham’s parent company, CHS, challenged its agronomy divisions to lead similar challenges at its locations throughout the country. Cumulatively, CHS has implemented 4,574 suggestions.

In Eastern Idaho, Bingham Cooperative has invested about $65,000 in seeing employee safety ideas to fruition and officials expect to invest up to $10,000 more in additional safety improvements.

“Once it started to click, it seemed like everyone had an idea,” Croft said.

Jim Grauberger, Bingham’s fertilizer operations manager, suggested the second exit based on concerns identified during a prior safety audit. He said Bingham also added a second exit to its American Falls facility.

“The employees are the ones that work here every day,” Grauberger said. “They’re the ones that know the safety functions that we need to have.”

Croft said Bingham may also offer its own safety training for members. Croft believes more is being expected from the agriculture sector regarding safety, and he said Bingham aims to stay ahead of the curve.

Croft shared Bingham’s experience to other agricultural industry sources attending a recent agriculture-specific session hosted during Safety Fest of the Great Northwest, hosted in Pocatello. The free safety training is sponsored by several companies and entities, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, whose officials lauded the effort as a prime example of the direction in which they hope agriculture will begin to move.

Based on concerns about a high number of fatal agricultural accidents in recent years, Dave Kearns, area director of OSHA’s Boise office, announced plans to start random inspections of Idaho dairies, farms and ranches. Kearns hopes to begin inspections by late summer and is focused on outreach for the time being.

“I’ve met with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, and they’re looking at bringing in people from out of state to help with safety training, too,” Kearns said. “We continue to look at every opportunity we possibly can to get the message out.”

During the safety training, OSHA cited statistics finding the occupational fatality rate is 700 percent higher for farmers compared with other occupations, and every day, 167 agricultural workers in the U.S. suffer an injury that requires them to miss work.

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