I was privileged to attend and cover the Southern Cotton Ginners Association (SCGA) Excellence in Safety awards ceremony at this year's Mid-South Farm and Gin Show.
The annual event recognizes gins across the five Mid-South states achieving various levels of safety during the previous ginning season. As I photographed award recipients, I could see the pride in their faces.
Ginning, just like farming, is an inherently dangerous profession. The SCGA safety program, coordinated by William Lindamood, is designed to improve the safety records of all 128 gins across the Mid-South.
I never fully appreciated the importance of a structured safety and training program until I made my first parachute jump in the summer of 1981. The United States Parachute Association-rated instructor trained our class to avoid letting ourselves be cornered in dangerous situations, and how to handle them when they occur. He also taught us to place our feet/knees together and roll when we landed. I've used that training advice several times since then.
I thought my anxiety level would increase as I progressed through the course, but I was wrong. I became more confident. Safety training increases awareness and instills a set of conditioned responses in people should worse-case scenarios happen.
On my 200th jump, it did. After deploying my parachute, I immediately recognized my control lines were entangled. The training I received kicked in. I jettisoned the main parachute by pulling the parachute container's cutaway handle, went back into freefall and deployed my reserve. It was over in less than five seconds.
I steered my reserve canopy toward the drop zone, landed safely, and took a few minutes to reflect on what had happened.
My instructor met me at the aircraft hangar door and offered congratulations for correctly handling the emergency. The safety procedures and training I learned on the ground conditioned the correct response in the air.
Other jumpers approached me as I began taking off my container system. Some shared their personal stories of emergency situations they had encountered.
Looking back, I realize the instructor had successfully created a culture of safety across the drop zone.
When Lindamood conducts safety seminars each summer, his goal is to eliminate accidents during the ginning season by establishing a similar proactive culture of safety in all gins.
There were no OSHA reportable deaths at any Mid-South gin in 2019. That is a testament to the SCGA safety program, its safety committee, and the effort put forth by Lindamood.
As the awards ceremony ended, I was walking by a group of people entering the Gin Show when I noticed a farmer wearing a sling on his right arm like the one my son wore after rotator cuff surgery. I introduced myself, asked, and he confirmed my suspicion. Three weeks prior he had fallen off a combine. Let's stay safe out there.