Monterey, Louisiana-based Oak River Farms, Incorporated, is an agribusiness that includes farming, land management, and on-site storage of grain. And when anyone discusses grain storage, the word safety always comes into play.
The 60-employee Oak River Farms has consistently dedicated considerable resources to updating their safety program and mitigating workplace injury and illness hazards. Seeing the value in working with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in a consultative and proactive manner, the company reached out to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, Workplace Safety Section, Consultation Program, for help in ensuring that they were interpreting OSHA regulations correctly and effectively identifying and addressing workplace safety and health hazards.
The OSHA On-Site Consultation Program offers no-cost and confidential occupational safety and health services to small and medium-sized businesses in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories, with priority given to high-hazard worksites. On-Site Consultation services are separate from enforcement and do not result in penalties or citations. Consultants from state agencies, such as Louisiana Consultation Program or universities, work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice for compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing and improving safety and health programs.
That is why it is no surprise when Oak River Farms ended up accepted into the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).
Before the company reached SHARP status, on June 8, 2016, Louisiana Consultation Program consultants conducted their first safety and health assessment for the company. During this visit, consultants identified the following areas of concern:
• Fire extinguishers were not subjected to an annual maintenance check, maintained with proper inspection tags, and visual inspections were not documented
• Repairing electrical knockouts and ensuring all electrical panels are labeled
• Ensuring oxygen and acetylene cylinders are not stored within 20 feet of each other
• Ensuring compressed air is not distributed through incompatible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tubing
Oak River Farms took a proactive approach to correcting the issues. Then, they went a step further in their safety journey and adopted the consultant’s “best practice” suggestions. Where possible, these recommendations were immediately implemented during the walkthrough.
During the hazard correction process, Oak River Farms implemented several methods to further improve their safety program. These methods included, but were not limited to, updating detailed grain handling and rescue procedures, enhancing monthly training, and empowering employees to conduct hazard and housekeeping inspections.
Engineering controls were also implemented; for example, PVC tubing for compressed air was replaced with approved tubing. Several electrical improvements were also made. Safety committee inspection checklists were updated with findings and recommendations from the first consultation visit. Recommendations from the consultation visit were shared with all farming locations to ensure consistency of practices. A robust training program was implemented with formal training, weekly talk sheets, and annual training events, such as Defensive Driving, Grain Bin Rescue coordinated with the Mississippi Farm Bureau, and First Aid/CPR/AED Certification. Grain bin rescue procedures were developed, and rescue equipment purchased.
The company’s steadfast attention to workplace safety paid off.
Just nine months after the initial consultation visit, Oak River Farms was accepted into the SHARP program on March 2, 2017. This program recognizes small business employers who have used OSHA On-Site Consultation Program services and operate exemplary safety and health programs. Acceptance of a worksite into SHARP from OSHA is an achievement of status that singles the company out among its business peers as a model for workplace safety and health.
The company also recognized the benefits of achieving SHARP and felt that ongoing participation in the program would drive safety excellence, promote continuous improvement, establish an engaged and committed workforce, and prevent the safety program from plateauing or getting stale. The Oak River Farms team was excited about collaborating and building a cooperative relationship with OSHA to achieve best-in-class performance and felt that SHARP could be used as an ongoing recognition program for employees.
The Louisiana Consultation Program and SHARP are primary components of the company’s Safety Business Plan and serve as the foundation of its health and safety system. These programs help ensure all employees remain focused and motivated. Oak River Farms has established a great partnership with the consultants and is comfortable contacting their office throughout the year for guidance and support. Initially, the program was driven by management, but now it is owned by the employees. This safety program has helped eliminate serious injuries and lower worker compensation claims over a sustained period. Employees continue to be engaged and enthused by the program.
Successes resulting from working with the Louisiana Consultation Program include a reduction in injuries and worker compensation costs. Oak River Farms’ injury rates are significantly lower than the agricultural industry average. This company has not experienced a recordable injury since May 20, 2015. In comparison, for North American Industry Classification System code 49313, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national industry average total recordable case rate was 2.54, and the national average days away from work, job transfer and restriction rate was 1.10 for 2015-2017 (the most currently available data). They have not experienced a worker compensation claim since 2017, and their experience modification factor has dropped to 0.66. Oak River Farms worker compensation costs dropped from $262,233 in 2014 to zero in 2017 and 2018.
The Grain Elevator Processing Society recognized Oak River Farms for achieving zero recordable injuries at the grain elevators, successful injury reduction efforts including over 4 years without a recordable injury and 6 years lost time accident-free in 2017 and 2018.
This company is committed to mentoring and supporting other businesses, particularly other farms, to achieve safety excellence through SHARP. Oak River Farms’ grain elevator also hosts an annual grain bin rescue-training event for the community.
“We are proud to be the only SHARP-certified farms in the Pelican State. Everyone is committed to participating in SHARP and continuously improving the safety program,” said Phillip Klapp, director of human resources. Employee engagement continues to strengthen through a Find It and Fix It program that encourages employees to report near misses, physical hazards, and make safety suggestions. This program also empowers those employees during the corrective action process.