When Larry Davis started work in the newly-created position of safety director for the Southern Cotton Ginners Association 22 years ago, the ginning industry — like much of agriculture — had a reputation for being a dangerous workplace.
There still are potential dangers, as is the case with any operation involving large, fast-moving machinery.
But today, thanks to Davis' efforts, and the cooperation and hard work of management and employees, Mid-South gins have an enviable safety record.
The achievement is the result of thousands of hours of training, utilizing materials developed by Davis and the National Cotton Ginners Association. They include posters, videos, and a wide range of information to enhance safety in the workplace.
Davis, who retired in 2014, was lauded for his service at the annual SCGA Honors Banquet, held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. A scholarship in his honor has been created at the University of Tennesseee-Martin, his alma mater.
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"Our member gins have become safer and more environmentally-friendly workplaces because of Larry's dedication," says Tim Price, SCGA executive vice president.
"When he joined SCGA in 1993, he moved quickly to implement measures designed to reduce injuries, as well as promoting a proactive approach to gin safety. In addition to developing and conducting nationally-recognized safety and training programs and audits, he also kept association members up to date on federal and state regulations, including taxes, labor and immigration, emissions control, module trucks, wage and hour laws, and drug/alcohol regulations and testing.
Lower insurance premiums
"As a result, SCGA member gins have posted reduced accident rates and ginners pay sharply lower premiums for liability insurance coverage, with savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars," Price says.
The industry has seen dramatic changes during his two-plus decades with SCGA, Davis says.
"Technology has given us more automation and more user-friendly equipment. But gin managers and employees have done an outstanding job of improving their use of machinery guards and safety equipment such as lock-outs. It has been a team effort between association leadership, gin owners, and employees.
"They all understand the seriousness of operating a safe gin. They also know they need to run a clean operation that doesn't pollute the surrounding area. They're more conscious than ever of emissions from their plants."
Over the years, gin numbers have declined as operations consolidated or got larger to handle increased volumes.
"When I started with SCGA, there were 340 member gins in the Mid-South, and only 20 of those had any kind of safety program. Today there are 155 member gins, and all have active safety programs. Two-thirds of them have A-plus level programs, and they're constantly looking for ways to make further improvements."
This is reflected in the number of gins winning the Diamond Award, the highest attainable, in 2014. "There were 16 gins that won the award," he says. "That's up from 10 in 2013. And we had 16 to win Platinum Awards, 14 gold, 26 silver, and 15 bronze — all requiring better than 94 points on a 100-point system."
As he said farewell to his many friends at the honors banquet and the annual safety awards luncheon, Davis said, "The U.S. ginning industry is the best in the world, and I can't see how there could be better ginners anywhere than in the Mid-South. They're competitive — but they pull together to work for the good of all."
In describing Davis and other industry leaders honored at the annual banquet, Tim Price said, "They all share a legacy of service, a lifetime of learning, and a strong sense of family."
Davis says he plans now to spend more time with his family and in community efforts, with more time for hunting and fishing.
Davis earned his B.S. degree in general agriculture at UT-Martin and an M.S. degree in genetics at UT-Knoxville, with additional studies for teacher certification at Mississippi State University and UT-Martin.
Prior to joining SCGA, he advised farmers as a fieldman with Tennessee Farmers Cooperative, conducted soybean projects with Farmers Forage Research. He also operated his own farm in Tipton County, Tenn., taught vocational agriculture at Munford, Tenn., and managed farm operations at Agricenter International at Memphis.
He served on the board of directors of Memphis Agricultural Club and was the organization's president in 2004-05. He was named Agribusiness Member of the Year in 2006.