In the book, Fooled By Randomness, best-selling author Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduces the concept of a black swan event, a rare, unexpected incident that changes the course of history — either collectively or for an individual — for better or for worse. Taleb suggests the goal is not to attempt to predict when these profound events may happen, but “to build robustness against negative ones that occur and being able to exploit positive ones.”
An example of a black swan event: The BP oil spill. The world is watching the developments in the Gulf of Mexico, and months later, they’ve allegedly managed to cap the hemorrhaging well; however, the true end to this catastrophe is nowhere in sight. While no one — the public, the government, BP — can even begin to comprehend the full scope of this disaster or its long-term effects, this black swan offers the opportunity to learn a valuable lesson: Prepare for the unexpected.
As grain handlers, during these weeks before the harvest, you need to take some time to reflect on your hidden vulnerabilities. In this issue, we stress the importance of grain engulfment prevention on page 24 — because it is just that: preventable. From what I gathered during my interviews for this article, a general it-won’t-happen-to-me attitude runs rampant in facilities of all sizes. Unfortunately, this mindset is what gets people in trouble.
“Every day these guys take their chances by walking the line between daring and foolish,” says Bill Harp, CEO of The Safety and Technical Rescue Association (SATRA). “If you make it out OK, you’re daring; if you die, you were foolish.”
Recently OSHA handed down a more than $1.6 million fine to the South Dakota Wheat Growers Association for an engulfment incident involving “23 willful violations” resulting in the “unnecessary loss of life” of one of its employees. Aside from the potential insurance costs and OSHA fines associated with such an incident, imagine the toll a senseless death takes on the consciousness and morale within an organization.
“By the time OSHA gets involved, you’ve already experienced a catastrophic failure and have had to stand on the doorstep of that employee to deliver the bad news to their family,” Harp says.
Wayne Bauer, safety and security director with Star of the West Milling, suggests anyone dealing with grain bins should adopt a zero-entry mentality: “It will have to be a cultural change — one where the employees acknowledge that grain is a dangerous material if not handled properly — and entering a bin is not the solution.”
Relatedly, once you’ve decided to strictly adhere to safety guidelines — make sure to enforce these principles on those around you. Every time you look the other way when you see someone doing something unsafe or against the rules, you are setting a new precedent.
Choose to steer clear of a black swan event that could forever affect your facility and business by embracing engulfment awareness, education and hands-on training.