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#48: Baby’s first incident

January 29, 2020 | 59 minutes 42 seconds

Podcast series host Jill James interviews Iowa farm girl turned safety pro, Nicole. Her path to safety began in early childhood, when a life-changing incident resulted in the loss of multiple fingers. Listener’s will hear some familiar themes as Nicole shares her journey, and take in more than few remarkable stories from her work in insurance brokerage. You’ll learn about safety in the agriculture industry, related insurance considerations, and benefit from her unique perspective on risk mitigation. This is underexplored territory for much of the greater safety community.

Transcript

Jill:

This is The Accidental Safety Pro, brought to you by Vivid Learning Systems and the Health and Safety Institute. Episode number 48. My name is Jill James, Vivid's, chief safety officer. And today I'm joined by Nicole, a safety professional who works in the insurance brokerage industry in Iowa. Nicole, welcome to the show.

Nicole:

Hi, thanks for having me.

Jill:

So Nicole, you are in Iowa and I understand that you grew up as an Iowa farm kid.

Nicole:

Absolutely. Pretty stereotypical I guess you could say. So born and raised originally in the Northeast corner of Iowa. Grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm, so we raised row crops like soybean, corn, and alfalfa, things along those lines. And then in addition to that we also had livestock, so we had finishing hogs, we had beef cattle, we took a little time in the dairy side of things and so got to dabble in a lot of different industries in regards to that side of the farm life. I grew up every day doing chores.

Jill:

Yeah, I was going to ask, what sort of responsibilities did you have on the farm?

Nicole:

We started off milking cows when I was probably, I'd say from the time I was born until the time I was about four or so. So that part of my life, I don't remember too vividly. But dairy cattle, that industry is... cows got to be milked no matter the day, no matter the weather, no matter what time of the day, things along those lines. So it's-

Jill:

Not a lot of family vacations or time away from the farm.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

You can't skip out on work.

Nicole:

Right. Our family vacations were farm. Right. So lots of feeding cows, lots of round baling, harvesting crops, just generally maintaining, building, vaccinating animals, taking care of animals, things like that. The fun side of it, I mean, outside of actually participating in the daily activities, but fun side was showing cattle in FFA and 4-H growing up. So we would always have our project cattle and then we would get to raise them and break them to lead and then we would get to show them. That truly probably was our vacation, the week of the show.

Jill:

Yeah. Hanging out at the county and the state fair, right?

Nicole:

Yeah. Right.

Jill:

So did you make it to the state fair ever with your cattle?

Nicole:

State fairs are a little different because you don't actually have to qualify to get to the state fairs. You basically just sign up and then you have your cattle weigh-ins and things like that and so you get show there based off of whether or not you signed up. We never did the state fair just because our county fair was always one of the very last county fairs. And so that would have been like three weeks of straight showing.

Jill:

Too long to be away from the farm.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

I speak as if I know what I'm talking about here and it's only because a young man in my sphere of influence raises sheep and horse and has shown at the fairs the last number of years. And so I'm one of those fair roadies who goes and watches sheep shows and horse shows, and I'm learning a lot along the way, but it is a giant family commitment is what've learned.

Nicole:

It's massive. One thing that my family has gotten really big into recently is going to the draft horse shows and watching them. We had some family ties to a team that does that, and so going and seeing all the behind the scenes work. There were some ridiculous stat that they told us, I think that it took like 32 boxes of hair dye to color the horse's hair if they were... because basically with the draft horses, they want them all to be a similar color. So if you've got one that isn't quite the same color, then they want them to look uniform.

Jill:

I had no idea.

Nicole:

They're massive. The draft horses themselves are massive.

Jill:

Well, in here, I was just admiring the fact that their tails get braided and stuff.

Nicole:

Right. And it takes an insane amount of time.

Jill:

I had no idea they were dying their... Yeah.

Nicole:

It takes an insane amount of time. Not all of them get their hair dyed, but I would say it's the ones that are more to the roan, whitish, grayish colors, just because there's so varying in color.

Jill:

Wow. Horse beauty salon. Who knew?

Nicole:

Right?

Jill:

Interesting. I'm curious to hear how this Iowa farm kid life led you into safety. And I know that you had an event when you were a kid and so I'm interested how that all ties in.

Nicole:

Yeah. This actually goes back to the time of life where we were milking cows. I was involved in a farm accident with my dad while feeding cows. TMR is a feed mixer wagon essentially. And so you put in a bunch of different ingredients that mixes it together and then it has an auger where it spouts out the feed as one once it's mixed together. TMRs back then used to have these little ledges around them. So we would always sit and ride on the ledges while it was being driven through the freestyle barn, which was, that'd be pretty common. We did it everyday. However, on that particular day my dad had parked the tractor and wagon in front of the milk house to go run and say something to my mom.

And while he ran in there for not even 30 seconds, I, a very adventurous two year old had climbed up the ladder on the back of the feed mixer wagon and gotten my hand caught in the sprocket and chain that runs the mixer on the inside. So I ended up losing a few fingers in that fun little stunt, I guess you could call it.

Jill:

Wow. Two years old.

Nicole:

Two years old. Yep.

Jill:

Do you remember it?

Nicole:

I don't remember the first part. So me telling my story is what I've been told from my parents. But I remember standing there after it had happened, looking at the ground and seeing the aftermath, essentially the blood and screaming. But that's pretty much the only part that I remember.

Jill:

Yeah. Wow.

Nicole:

I only had older brothers as well. And so they gave me this really cool cast that basically covered my whole hand, it went all the way up to my shoulder. And so that became my defense mechanism against my brothers.

Jill:

Blocking your brothers.

Nicole:

It had a club for a few months.

Jill:

For a while. Your poor dad, he must have been beside himself.

Nicole:

Oh yeah. He was absolutely, absolutely mortified. And we would joke with them for a while because there was a long time where he was very reserved from letting me help on the farm after that. And so once my brothers all graduated and were out of the house, I was like, "Okay, well now you don't have any choice so you have to let me do this," sort of a thing. Which is funny because he never shied away from asking my mom to go do things, but I was always the last resort just because of what had happened.

Jill:

He was traumatized for you.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

And you had a very typical, let's call it typical accident, right? A machine [crosstalk] issue with a chain and sprocket with an in-running nip point and you got sucked into the nip point.

Nicole:

Right. It's amazing because my fingers look like the AT&T cellular tower and so, right. And so the amount of-

Jill:

That was first.

Nicole:

Right. The amount of fingers that I lost was pretty slim to none for a two year old to be involved in that kind of a situation. So I guess I'm pretty fortunate in that realm because it could have been much, much worse with the slightest change of events.

Jill:

Right. Interesting. So you have your own personal safety story.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

Or accident story, I guess.

Nicole:

I'm not going to say that that's what led me to safety, but it definitely, as I fell into the industry and the career, it definitely is something that we joke again with my dad now that he was just setting me up for a career in safety, which he still doesn't find funny, but the rest of us do.

Jill:

Similar in my life as well. Nothing happened to me. However, my father was involved in a farm accident when he was a teen, I think he was 18 years old. This is way before I was born or my parents were even together. Something happened with a flywheel on a farm that it struck him in the head and it was a traumatic head injury and he was hospitalized for a really long time as I'm told by my mother and he lost his frontal bone of his head-

Nicole:

Oh wow. Yeah.

Jill:

... if you can imagine someone who doesn't have a frontal bone. Back then medicine tried to patch it with some synthetic thing so that there would be something to replace the skull bone that was shattered and he was allergic to it and his body rejected it.

Nicole:

Oh wow.

Jill:

And so I grew up with a father who had a farm incident happen to him who did not have part of the frontal bone of his skull. The only thing separating his brain from the outside world is skin.

Nicole:

Yeah, that's crazy.

Jill:

Right? And so as a kid growing up, we were doing, well, I guess hazard recognition and controls in my house growing up constantly because we were all very mindful of dad's head.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

He can't get, literally can't get hit in the ahead. So when you've got that classic kitchen cabinet above the refrigerator where you maybe pack all the cereal boxes and you're a kid and you want to just smash it shut and it might come popping back open, now you did not do that in my house because it could hit dad in the head and take him out.

Nicole:

Right. I mean, that's how you grew up. So you had that experience and that was your level of common sense around the farm. Whereas the traditional level of common sense around the farm is, this is how we do it and this is how it's been for 50 years. And so that level of risk perception is a lot farther away from where it should be.

Jill:

Right. And so I have no idea if that colored the reason why I chose the field that I did. But I certainly know that I was basically born into a world of identifying risk.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

So you got off the farm eventually, Nicole. What happened with your career next? What did you-

Nicole:

I did. So I went to Iowa State University, which is an agricultural school through and through. They're known for other things, but obviously as a rural farm kid, knowing agriculture, that was the only path I wanted to go. So I went to Iowa State and I changed my major lots of times. Tried to dabble in other areas outside of agriculture and ended up coming back to agriculture just because it's where my roots were and it's where I felt at home. And while I was in the agricultural business major, I had the opportunity to intern for an insurance carrier doing risk management consulting and loss control type work for the farm accounts that they worked with specifically.

So I worked on the farm side of things. So that's how I fell into the insurance industry. I honestly didn't even know that that existed as a role-

Jill:

Sure. Many of us didn't have any idea. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nicole:

... until I was in it. And then once I graduated college, that same carrier then gave me an opportunity to work full-time for them in the commercial ag side of the house. So I worked primarily with traditional commercial agricultural type accounts in the Midwest. So a lot of grain elevators, feed mills, cooperatives, fertilizer plants, implement dealers, you name it, traditional agriculture, I worked with it.

Jill:

Yeah. Right. So Nicole, you use the term commercial agriculture. And then there's family farms, I don't know if that's an actual term. And then there's corporate farming. When it comes to the discipline of agriculture, would you divide it in three sections or what do those terms mean?

Nicole:

I don't know if I would divide it into three sections because once you get outside of the commercial realm, you've got your... when I worked for the carrier, they used to call it specialty ag, and that is the farms that are larger but they might also have some level of commercial exposure. So from a commercial exposure, that's basically a company exposure. So if it's a fertilizer operation or if it's a larger farm that they also expanded into fertilizer operations if they're applying and doing custom application or things like that for other individuals, there's a level of insurance exposure from a business commercial standpoint. So there's a lot of gray area and I wouldn't say there's necessarily three groups specifically, but you most definitely do have your family farms.

Not that they are all small, some are quite large in multiple generation family farms, but typically those farms are diversified between both crops and livestock or... In Illinois, they're very, very big on row crop. So they've got a lot of family farms that are specifically just corn and soybeans just because their ground is so healthy there for row crops that they don't want to use it on livestock essentially.

Jill:

Sure.

Nicole:

So it depends on your location as well. But you do have those farms that are diversified between crops and livestock. So you do have the larger farms that might be specifically in one specific area. So you've got maybe somebody that's just specifically in cattle production or cattle reproduction or they are specifically only in row crop, things like that, or dairy cows. And then once you get past that, that's when you open up the door to the commercial type operations where you do have those business exposures from an insurance standpoint.

And then further you've got the vertically integrated operations. So let's say it's a hog operation and they're completely vertically integrated, then they are raising their own crops. Those crops are then turned into the feed at their own feed mill that they feed their own pigs with and then they've got the sow units and they do their own farrowing and they do their own finishing and things along those lines. So they're completely vertically integrated.

Jill:

Right. Makes sense. Makes sense. And all of them, I mean, regardless of whether it's a family farm or this vertically integrated all in between has employees or can have employees, which for risk and risk abatement, not that there isn't risk with a family farm that doesn't have employees. There's risk there too. But by way of the work of safety in our practice, agriculture is a big sector for us to work in.

Nicole:

It's a huge sector and it's a niche area where in all honesty, there's not a lot of resources that are safety specific for which it is a little disheartening just because, I mean, the farm accidents happen so frequently and they happen so often on the area of the industry where it typically tends to be those family farms where OSHA might not directly apply to them based off of employee count or things along those lines. And even though the risks are still there and they still have the exact same hazards, in all honesty, they might even have more hazards just because they're operating a lot more leaner than maybe a more corporate farm.

But the risks are still there and unfortunately, they just don't maybe necessarily have the resources or the guidelines like some of the larger farms or the more commercial operations do have.

Jill:

Or held to the expectations or maybe even the understanding of what some of the hazards are. I think about the fact that farms, oh man, confined spaces, right? In so many confined spaces and growing up in the Midwest myself, it's like the classic examples of things that go wrong on farms is someone dies in a grain barn.

Nicole:

Yep.

Jill:

And you read it in the paper, you hear it on the news, you hear it in your local community and you're like, "What? Again? Really?"

Nicole:

All the time. Right. All the time.

Jill:

It's baffling to the mind that after all these years we haven't figured out what those hazards are and how to prevent that. I mean, we know what the hazards are, but how we get that information.

Nicole:

Right. How we reach that audience can give that to them. Right. I struggle with it too myself just because I see it so often in the areas that I live of things along those lines. And my dad, he's always, "I wish you would stop looking at me like I'm one of your accounts," which cracks me up because we can't turn it off.

Jill:

Sorry.

Nicole:

I'm like, "Sorry, but-

Jill:

Sorry not sorry.

Nicole:

Right. But I'm not actually sorry. But no, I think that there has just been a disconnect because there hasn't been the expectation for those farms to resort to the same level of expectations that are maybe held on the commercial side and things like that. And from a regulatory standpoint, that would be incredibly hard to do just to stay on top of and focus on and things along those lines. But yeah, it's a personal mission of mine to figure out how we can work on that.

Jill:

Well, and maybe those of us who have, people who are listening and who have their own circles of influence or those of us who do writing about safety hazards or talking about or presenting about it, maybe we could all do more to use agriculture as examples.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

I think there's lots of classic examples that many of us can lean into and maybe we could do a better job of bringing agriculture into the conversation.

Nicole:

Right. It is a very niche industry. And it's also a tough industry because it parallels construction and the fact that it's almost air quotes around cowboy mentality that you got to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk the second that you walk in the door and show your credibility. And if you say anything that, I guess counteracts your credibility, then it's going to be really hard to get that back and try and get them to understand where you're coming from. But they-

Jill:

Right. So-

Nicole:

Oh sorry. But the second that they do have that credibility with you, then they're like, "Yeah, tell me more. I want to understand how we can better do this." So at the end of the day, they are truly genuine and caring people, it's just that they don't think that people understand the industry that they work in.

Jill:

Right. And so how has that gone for you? You said that you were offered your first job in the carrier world, insurance carrier, and you're still in the insurance world now on the brokerage side, but how has that worked for you with credibility and buy in as you're talking with people? What's worked for you?

Nicole:

It's actually helped me pretty tremendously and that's what turned me on to the safety industry from the get go because when I was hired for that specific carrier, essentially they told me, "We can teach safety to anybody, but agriculture is something that we need people who have that experience." And so once I started working for them, they essentially just started teaching me safety from day one and how to recognize those hazards and in all reality, working specifically in the commercial agricultural industry. I've gotten vast knowledge in how those commercial operations work and the types of hazards to notice and things along those lines.

And so being able to come into a niche industry like that and be able to have the background and then also be able to address those hazards on top of it has been huge for my credibility. So 100% thankful for that because that's how I was able to break past those barriers. I mean, especially walking into a grain elevator that has a general manager that's been there for the last 50 years of his life and he doesn't want this insurance person to be there in the beginning. And not only that, but then this insurance person that's going to tell him about safety walks in the door and it's a early 20s girl that just graduated college. Right? So there's that barrier immediately to help break down too.

So being able to really truly know the industry and the hazards of it and be able to walk that walk and talk the talk because of the training that I received, honestly was the only way to break down those barriers.

Jill:

Yeah. Right. When you talked about the hazards that are specific to the agricultural industry, they do really have some specific things that you don't often see in other places of employment. It's not like they're necessarily exclusive by way of hazards to ag, but you don't see them everywhere. And so maybe for our listeners who are wondering what are some of those hazards if I'm thinking about going into this or maybe someone's listening who's working in ag or is from a farm or has family farm people, what are some of those things that you typically see by way of hazards?

Nicole:

Right. So the biggest, and I would say probably most glaring one is combustible dust in grain and feed milling specifically just because, just the way that the properties are set up and the way that the elevators are on and the conveyors and how long these elevators have been standing essentially and how much they operate. There's a lot of combustible dust. It's not something that you're ever going to be able to get rid of. So you have to learn how to effectively manage it. And so that's one of the biggest ones, especially because property is typically one of their large areas of exposure outside of work comp obviously.

Jill:

Just to back up a little bit, when we're talking about combustible dust, for people listening, some of our listeners may have heard about explosions that have happened in elevators if you live anywhere in an agricultural area and you pay attention, you likely have heard that happening. And so that's what you're talking about is combustible dust. And so ways to mitigate around that is housekeeping for one thing. And then reducing sparking hazards is another thing. So when you're doing your work, are you coaching and informing people about housekeeping methods and how that works?

Nicole:

Right. Obviously housekeeping is, as you stated, one of the most important ways that you can help mitigate it because it's not going to be able to be engineered out. So housekeeping is one of the first things that we always talk about clients with and it's, what does your frequency of cleaning look like if we have a grain spill maybe down in a boot pit underground? What's our response time in cleaning that up? How often are we evaluating the type of extension cords that we're using in this area or the type of... outside of housekeeping, I guess we would look at electrical tool and making sure that we don't have any broken conduit or any areas of junction boxes that are exposing livewiring thing like that. Things along those lines.

But from the housekeeping standpoint, it's not just only frequency, it's, do our employees also understand how much that could affect a dust explosion? Because a lot of times people, again, combustible dust is one thing that you're not going to be able to engineer out. It's just a part of the process. And so since they're so used to it being present, how much time are we spending on educating them on what level of dust is acceptable versus not acceptable and how are we mitigating that dust? Is it something that we're using an air compressor and suspending the dust up into the air, making it even more of a hazard? Or is it something that we're brushing it down and what can we do from a building structural standpoint? Things like that.

So it usually typically always starts with housekeeping, but then it does trickle into electrical and how they're maintaining that. And then also preventative maintenance is big too because a lot of times the sparking incident, I guess that would start this combustible dust is from a maintenance issue. So we've-

Jill:

Right. Yeah, go ahead. Give an example of that.

Nicole:

Right. So fairly often it's specifically because of bearings that are running in the elevators, in the head pulleys and the boot pulleys. And so essentially it's, what is our greasing program? How often are we greasing it? Do the people that are greasing it understand how to properly grease it or are we just greasing it until grease starts squirting out and we think it should be good? So it's climbing up to the top of the elevators and looking at every single bearing that's up on top of those head pulleys and how much grease is trickling down the ladder or how much grease is around the bearing itself and having those conversations about, "Do you understand that overgreasing actually is just as big as a hazard as undergreasing because you can blow seals, which then introduces your sparking hazard? Things along those lines.

Bearing specific is massive. I would say the other major area would probably be the elevators itself. There's a lot of sensors that grain elevators specifically look at using, whether it's a hot bearing detection, so you can hopefully catch it before that spark does happen. Or there's motion sensors that track the speed of the head and foot of the elevators just to see if they're operating at the same speed or if there's any kind of slippage because there might be a catch somewhere in that elevator. And then you've also got alignment sensors too, which can go off if the belts that the buckets of the bucket elevator are on are shifting or deviating too far left or too far right. And so they might be digging into potentially the concrete or the metal there-

Jill:

Yeah. Causing it to spark.

Nicole:

... and then that friction could cause the spark especially.

Jill:

There's a lot to know and a lot to [crosstalk 00:29:51].

Nicole:

There is.

Jill:

Some of our listeners might be going, "What were some of those words she was using?" And maybe just for people who aren't familiar with a grain elevator, maybe we should try to explain what a grain elevator does. Because it is literally elevating a grain product and then processing it perhaps in some area of the building, the elevator itself or sending it to bins, distributing it somewhere else. And so that grain has to be picked up, and like you had mentioned, what was the term that you use for the bucket? The bucket elevators?

Nicole:

Yep.

Jill:

And if you can imagine, well, literary, the big-ish buckets scooping up, continuously moving up and down.

Nicole:

It almost looks like a brick except it's a bucket. So it's open in the middle and basically there's just a continuous belt with all these buckets on it. And then once it gets down to the boot, which is underground, and I guess I should probably step back just a bit. Sometimes-

Jill:

Right. And just talk about what a boot pit is. I know, but yes, our listening audience [crosstalk 00:31:02].

Nicole:

Right. Sometimes I just go off in tangents and I get into the weeds.

Jill:

It's good weeds.

Nicole:

Essentially when the grain comes into the grain elevator, it usually comes via the semi. And so then the hopper bottom trailers, they open up the hoppers on the bottom and then the grain then feeds into a pit which is down underground and that is where it will essentially be conveyed and taken up by the bucket elevator. So essentially the buckets on this continuous belt that are in the elevator will pick up the grain and haul it up to the top.

And then once it gets to the top of that elevator, it will then be distributed to different bins depending on where the manager I guess, decides to put that grain. And then they will put it into different bins based off of moisture so they can get a good mixture of it or they don't want moisture to be too high in other bins or if the grain coming in is way too wet, then they might have to run it through a dryer first and things along those lines.

Jill:

You don't want grain to mold.

Nicole:

Right. Because when it does mold, it starts fires.

Jill:

A whole nother issue.

Nicole:

Yep. A whole nother issue.

Jill:

You talked about preventative maintenance when I was with OSHA and doing inspections, which included elevators, one of those things that we would be looking at is, I need to look inside the boot pit and I need to ask about maintenance things and I need to see how much dust is in there. And I need to ask you, "What sort of equipment are you using for cleaning the dust? Is it non-sparking? If you're using some kind of vacuum system, is it a non-sparking? And teaching people about how wiring needs to be enclosed and yeah, so that's all part of what you do on a daily basis.

Nicole:

Yeah.

Jill:

I know guys, Nicole and I would have gone into the weeds, but it, I mean, you had said the hazards are unique and they are and they're very critical. Many people listening know that OSHA has special emphasis programs to do inspections and target particular industries or types of activities. And that industry has been one of them, particularly around elevators for a long time because these things that you're talking about are so critical.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

What about some of the other more unique or common hazards that you see in agriculture?

Nicole:

There's a ton of different angles to go.

Jill:

Yeah. Right?

Nicole:

But on the grain side, from the worker's comp side, there's obviously been entrapments, which we see way more than I wish we did. And then you've got your generals, walking, working surfaces, slip, trip, fall type hazards because we've got employees that are climbing up ladders on these bins that might be 100 feet in the air or we've got employees that might be loading semis or driving feed trucks. And so that essentially would require them to climb up the ladders on the back to be able to maybe close the tarp on the trailer of the semi or if they're delivering feed, that means that they are going out on to individual farms and they have then got to make sure that the spouting on their feed truck matches up with the bins at the site. So they have to get out of the truck and climb up the bins onsite-

Jill:

And take a look.

Nicole:

... then take a look inside and climb down. So we've got a lot of hazards from that perspective on the workers' compensation side. And two, one that is often missed is the temperature, right? Because this is an industry that works every single day, no matter the time of the year because animals have got to get fed. Things have got to be taken care of. Harvest is pretty much a 24/7 operation and so we've got to talk about the summertime, the heat stress, and we've got to talk about the winter time when it's 30 degrees below outside and we got to go clean out a bin.

Not only are we talking about safety specific, but we're now also addressing what does that temperature do to your body and what do we need to do to help mitigate that hazard so that from the temperature standpoint, you know how to, I guess, identify when there may potentially be an issue. But outside of the grain industry, some pretty unique hazards are on the fertilizer side and the chemical application side because we've got a lot of mobile equipment operation that is on the roadways. And so we've got to work on the training that we have and specifics for driving on the roadways with an applicator that you might have to get all the way on the shoulder and you're still going to have cars that try to take your back tire off because... things along those lines.

Jill:

Because you're that wide.

Nicole:

Right. Or not hitting light poles, things along those lines. And then with the chemical applications and dry fertilizer applications, in addition to mobile equipment, you've got the mixing process. So the PPE and potential hazards of working with anhydrous, anhydrous ammonia or just general chemicals that we're going to be mixing together to make a specific type of chemical application for this particular field. When we get to that field and we've got to dump and rinse out, what is our protocol for how we flush out that? Things along those lines.

Jill:

Has your communication in personal protective equipment and knowing what you need.

Nicole:

It's huge.

Jill:

Yeah.

Nicole:

And it's very specific too because you've got the anhydrous and you've got liquid propane too because... that's partially why I love working with cooperatives so much is because they are so complex and they have so many hazards because they've got the agronomy side both from an insurance and a safety perspective. They've got the agronomy side of applying chemicals and working around those chemicals. We've got the grain side of all the hazards we just address. We've got the feed side where they're looking at from a food safety perspective and a safety perspective and a combustible dust perspective.

So that is tricky as well. And then a lot of these cooperatives are also dealing with refined fuel and LP and home delivery. So then it gets into the NFPA guidelines of, okay, leak checks, and our customers that we're outreaching, do we provide our right to know annual information? Do we make them sign off on it? What's our protocol for new customers when somebody moves into a new house in our area? And there's just so many different aspects that all have their own little nuances and niches that it's partially why I love the industry just because it's very complex and it requires a lot of detail and knowledge and learning. And I think it's fun, some people might not.

Jill:

Well, you have a lot packed into your head, Nicole.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

And it's fantastic to hear you talk about it because it's not, the hazards aren't... it's not one thing.

Nicole:

Right. It's-

Jill:

It's so many, which keeps the job exciting. Right?

Nicole:

It does. Every day is never the same. Never the same. That's for sure.

Jill:

And it keeps you learning. Keeps you learning for sure.

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

I know one of the things that you and I talked about when we had a quick chat before when I was trying to get you to agree to be a guest, which, thank you by the way. We were talking about manlifts. Well, first of all, the sexist term manlift, which is a way for people to be moved regardless of their sex. And you find them very often in agriculture. Can you talk about what that is? I mean, we can find them in other industries too, but not as often as we find them in agricultural settings. So can you describe what that is?

Nicole:

A manlift is essentially a way to get to, most commonly they are used in grain elevators in the agricultural side of the worlds or also at feed mills that have multiple floors because you've got to be able to get up to the very, very top of the grain bins or the concrete silos or the head house or wherever you're wanting to go to be able to see and work on the railing around the top of it or make sure that we don't have any molding grain or we're working on greasing bearings, things along those lines. Essentially, it's a way to take you all the way up to the top. A lot of times that is 150 feet in the air, 200 feet in the air, things like that.

But these manlifts are typically like, what do I say, three foot by three foot box maybe that's basically got expanded metal as your cage and then you just hold on to a button that says, "I want to go up." And you got to hold that until you get to the floor you want to go on and then you jump out. And if you let go of that button, oftentimes you might get stuck in between floors. It happens. I was always sure that my finger was about white by the time I got to the top because I never wanted to get stuck in between floors.

Jill:

Right. And there's different configurations of these manlifts as well. I mean, who knows why wide, just general staircases weren't built into these areas, I'm guessing for space, they just took too much space so someone came up with this idea of we're just going to be able to convey people from Florida floor through a different means. And so the kind that you described is one kind, I've seen ones that look like teeny tiny phone booths that are more enclosed that go up. And then the one that I've had the most personal experience with is something called an endless belt manlift. And that looks like a big giant treadmill belt, if you can imagine that, about as wide as a treadmill belt actually, maybe a little bit wider that's got these-

Nicole:

Not very big.

Jill:

... yeah, that's got these, and it runs vertically throughout, like you said, 150, 200 feet. So if you can imagine a pulley on one end and a pulley on the other end and this big treadmill belt that runs vertically that has these little steps. I don't know if we want to call them a step, a place to stand every so often.

Nicole:

It's like a little platform [crosstalk 00:42:02].

Jill:

Yeah. A little tiny platform. Right. And you have to like... the belt never stops running.

Nicole:

Jump on.

Jill:

It never stops running. And so you have to time it and then jump onto that little step. And then right about where you would suspect something to hold on would be right in front of you as you're facing that belt is like a little cup that you just grab onto for your life and then you take a ride. They're not enclosed. There's not a guard rail system around you. It's open and birds could be flying around as you're in these areas and then when you need to get off on a floor, you have to be able to see the floor coming and then step backwards and off as the belt continues to run. There is a handbrake on the side, a rope that you can grab to for an emergency stop. But that's about it. Those are wild [crosstalk 00:43:01].

Nicole:

They're pretty intense.

Jill:

Yeah. I experienced my first and only in my career workers' compensation claim for myself after I had ridden one of those. I did not fall, so spoiler alert, I did not fall.

Nicole:

[crosstalk 00:43:15].

Jill:

But I was working for OSHA at the time and I needed to get to the roof of a grain elevator where a man had, because of a lockout tagout issue had gotten his hand pulled into a pulley system at the top of the elevator. I needed to get up there to be able to do my investigation. And so the option was the manlift or the ladder on the outside of the elevator, which-

Nicole:

Which that ladder is just a straight ladder that goes up 200 feet in there. So it's the last resort.

Jill:

The last resort. I had never ridden on one of these before and so I'm like, I knew in my head, I'm running through the regulation for manlifts, I'm like, "Oh, okay, I'm going to send up a couple people before I get on this thing." And I told the people from the elevator, I said, "When I get to the top, pull me off, literally pull me off because I've never stepped backwards off of one of these things before and I'm going to need some guidance." And they're like, "Yeah, we'll let you know." So I'm riding up and I have my eyes closed most of the time because it is pretty frightening and I get-

Nicole:

And it's pitch dark.

Jill:

Yeah, it's dark. So these guys at the top are like, "We can see you, Jill. We can see you're coming through, you're coming through, you're getting to the top, get ready to step, get ready to step." And I'm like, "Pull me off." And they did. And they're like, "Wow, you weren't kidding." And I said, "Well, I'm pretty sure I'm afraid of heights, but this is my job and I have to do it." So I'm shaking like a leaf by the time I get to the top and pull myself together in order to do my job and then have to of course ride it back down. The next day or that evening I broke out in hives from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Just horrendous hives.

I went to my dermatologist and she's like, "What happened?" And I said, "I think I got so scared, I got hives." And she's like, "No, that doesn't happen." She said, "But you are allergic to mold. And there's a certain amount of mold in the dust in green." I had just experienced enough dust to have an allergic reaction, which lasted six weeks.

Nicole:

Oh wow.

Jill:

I know, right?

Nicole:

Yeah. That's not exciting.

Jill:

It was crazy. That's my experience. I've been on a couple since then, but it would not be my choice. So when we talk about endless belt manlifts and manlifts in general and safety, yeah, what have you learned about those?

Nicole:

First things first, I will start off with the only time that I've ever had an experience with one of those manlifts, I was very young and just fresh out of college and naive to the process. I was like, well, I am telling these guys that I know exactly what I'm doing. I can't sit here and say, "No, I'm not going up that." That's going to ruin my entire credibility.

Jill:

Exactly.

Nicole:

So I was like, "I got to buckle up and do it."

Jill:

That's what I had to do.

Nicole:

Right, exactly. So when I worked for the carrier that I worked for, they basically said, "If you see one of these, we don't want it. So in my mind I took that as, okay, man, these are bad. We don't want these. I guess I also associated with that that they were no longer supposed to be in use.

Jill:

Sure.

Nicole:

And so it took our conversation for me to look into it a little bit more. And then luckily one of the individuals in my network that I was reaching out to who also works specifically in Ukraine was like, "No, they're actually still legal." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, I feel like I've been living a lie." So I definitely had to email you and say, "Hey, wait a minute. I totally misspoke." Right?

Jill:

Yeah. And there are a few safety considerations with them, but honestly, they also can be a sparking hazard in a dusty environment for certain and they do have brakes on them, like I talked about, and those breaks have to be inspected. Anyway, and there're speeds associated with them and guarding the shaft that they run through so people can't inadvertently fall through the shaft and things like that. We were talking about that you were working on the carrier side of insurance and now you work on the brokerage side, how long have you been in each maybe, and if you don't mind explaining to our listeners the difference between a carrier, an insurance carrier, and an insurance broker, that would be great.

Nicole:

On the carrier side, I spent about three years in the traditional agricultural specific, loss control specific realm. And then on the brokerage side, I've been here for about a year and a half. So still a newbie to the safety industry but-

Jill:

It doesn't sound like it, Nicole.

Nicole:

Well, that's good. That helps.

Jill:

Well done.

Nicole:

Essentially, the difference between brokers and carriers are carriers are your, basically the ones that are going to be paying out your claims or it's who you have your policy through. So those are your Travelers, your Triangle, Nationwides, Liberty Mutual, State Farm, things like that. So those are the types of carriers. There's a ton of ones that are specific working solely in agriculture, ones that solely work on personal lines, auto, at home, things along those lines. So we work primarily with the carriers that deal with commercial businesses and operations and we've got our niche carriers that we use for some of those niche industries, things along those lines.

But then the broker side is almost like a consultant. Basically we work with clients to help consult on where their exposures are, what types of insurance that they should be buying or should be looking at buying, how much exposure that they do have with their operation. Maybe they don't know that adding this specific area to their business opens up a whole new can of worms from an exposure standpoint on insurance. So we have different areas of our brokerage, we've got a safety team and then we've got advocacy for claims handling, things along those lines. We've got our marketing team, which helps us with renewals. We've got our sales team. So basically all across the board, whether it's claims handling, safety program design, things along those lines, we're essentially a consultant.

And so we help our clients in their purchasing process of what to buy, how to buy, how to handle claims, how to handle safety, things along those lines. So we are that extra resource before the carrier because often the carriers are operating at such a large capacity that sometimes it's hard for them to put a face to the name and things along those lines.

Jill:

Sure.

Nicole:

I guess we're that middleman to help you navigate those resources and insurance products.

Jill:

Yeah. And help you find and make the best choices for the carriers that are out there by way of-

Nicole:

Right. And the ones that are suitable for your industry or have the most accurate, what do I want to say? Products for your exposures, things along those lines.

Jill:

Sure. And cost as well.

Nicole:

Right. Exactly. Because ultimately you can-

Jill:

The best value.

Nicole:

You're right, you can under insure, you can over insure and things along those lines. And so it's finding that balance and that happy medium and where our client's level of risk retention is.

Jill:

Safety people work on both the carrier side and the broker side.

Nicole:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep.

Jill:

And those are services that are available to employers.

Nicole:

Right. Yep. So the safety on the carrier side, typically they are your loss control individuals, which are the face of the carrier, so that's going to be the one that is onsite, maybe doing walkthroughs or providing with some extra training materials, inviting you to training seminars, things along those lines. They typically also have specialists, whether it's fleet specialists, food safety specialists, grain specialists, agronomy, depending on if it's a niche carrier or not a niche carrier, things along those lines. That can help with more of your general questions or your more specific questions I guess I should say.

And then on the broker side, we've got, with our specific brokerage, we've got a team of safety consultants that focus on transportation and then also the general industry side of safety. And then we've got, me specifically, I work in a different department, so I work with all of the clients that are in my department specific. Although agriculture is my specialty, I do focus on safety with all of the clients in our department. So I am becoming much more of a generalist in addition to that as well. And so I'm basically a day-to-day contact, touch point to safety consultants I guess you could say, whether there's a specific claim and they're looking at accident investigation and did we find the true root cause, things like that. Revamping programs or structuring goals for the year, things along those lines.

Jill:

And these are services that are available to employers as part of their premiums that they're paying, as part of their fees. It's not something that is an additional fee.

Nicole:

Right. On the brokerage side, it's usually all included in your premium. There might be something that maybe is outsourced from a third party or something that maybe the brokerage will either cost for or maybe it's something that the client wants to pay for because they want to have that extra ownership into it, things along those lines. Carriers for the most part, a lot of the times the stuff they have is included in your premium, but sometimes there are additional services that may require some level of fee. So also part of my role here is to help our clients navigate what is the most cost efficient and effective way to get this service?

Nicole:

So whether that's a third party, whether it's our internal team, whether it's a carrier, things along those lines.

Jill:

Right. I know I used, in my last previous job, I used my broker to help me figure out how to do some air monitoring for hexavalent chromium. And so the broker was able to source an industrial hygienist for me who was able to do that monitoring for much less dollars than had I went out and found a industrial hygienist and hired them myself. And so that was something that wasn't included in their services, but they helped me source that and source it in an affordable manner.

Nicole:

Right. So that's essentially-

Jill:

And then also the paper trail stayed with them too. I had what I needed and the broker had what they needed and it was good. And a quick turnaround too.

Nicole:

Right. And oftentimes a lot of people don't know that those services or that type of capability exists. But we do. We're here.

Jill:

Yeah. I mean, that's great. You're right. A lot of times people don't know they exist. So when people are trying to tackle safety, whether you're a safety professional yourself or maybe you're just getting started or maybe you're an employer who's like, "I don't have a safety professional, but I know I need to get this stuff done," you can lean into your insurance carrier, your insurance broker, or both for help on lots of different topics, whether it be training or helping writing a program or a policy or a system or doing monitoring like we're talking about, there's so much you can help with.

Nicole:

Right. And there're some things that from the carrier side too, that they might not be... they can provide guidelines, but they can't give you sample programs, things like that from a liability exposure. So that's our job too as the broker to say, "Okay, well, we can get this portion from this carrier that you work with and this portion from this carrier that you work with because they might have multiple depending on lines of coverage, things like that.

Jill:

That makes. It makes sense. Well Nicole, as we're wrapping up our time with one another today, I'm curious, do you have a favorite section as you're doing this work or maybe favorite right now that you're really interested in digging to?

Nicole:

Obviously the agricultural side is where my heart lies just because that's where my roots are from. But since I have been a generalist more say in our brokerage department, construction is one that I find very intriguing just because of the fact that, like I said, there's a lot of parallel with the agricultural industry about just the way that the relationships work and things along those lines. And it's also very, very complex too just like the agricultural industry is.

Jill:

It is.

Nicole:

Not to say that I don't like manufacturing because I definitely have spent some days going down a little wormhole of CNC machining safety videos.

Jill:

Yes. They're also complex.

Nicole:

Right. They all have their own little complexities and I would say construction might be one of my next favorites, but I truly enjoy continuously learning and so right now I like being able to have that generalist nature just because I can continually learn so much about the manufacturing specific complexities and construction specific complexities. So I most definitely am up for any kind of challenge that comes my way.

Jill:

Hmm. Well Nicole, you're just getting started and the amount of information that you've got packed in your head is impressive at this point in your career and any employer would be lucky to have you come into their facilities. So good luck to you.

Nicole:

Well, thank you. Thank You.

Jill:

Good luck to you in your continued career. And thank you so much for sharing such fabulous details with our listening audience today. I really appreciate it.

Nicole:

And thank you for letting me get real super nerdy about agricultural...

Jill:

That's what this podcast is all about, sister.

Nicole:

Perfect.

Jill:

We have to have a place to get together, right everybody?

Nicole:

Right.

Jill:

All right.

Nicole:

No, I appreciate it. Thank you so much, Jill.

Jill:

You're welcome. Thank you for spending your time listening today and more importantly, thank you for your contribution, making sure your workers, including your temporary workers and your ag workers make it home safe every day. If you'd like to join the conversation about this episode or any of our previous episodes, follow our page and join the Accidental Safety Pro community group on Facebook. If you aren't subscribed and want to hear past and future episodes, you can subscribe in iTunes, the Apple Podcast App or any other podcast player that you'd like. You can also find all of our podcasts with their transcriptions at vividlearningsystems.com/podcast.

We'd love it if you could leave us a rating and review us on iTunes. It really helps us connect with more and more safety professionals like you and I. If you have a suggestion for a guest, including if it's you, you can contact me at social@vividlearningsystems.com. Special thanks to Will Moss, our podcast producer. And until next time, thanks for listening.