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Newsletter
Volume 171
February 1, 2018

O’Neill Honored with ARA’s Lifetime Achievement Award

The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) honored William “Tip” O’Neill with the 2017 Jack Eberspacher Lifetime Achievement Award during their Annual Conference and Expo in Phoenix, AZ.  In a career spanning more than 40 years, Tip was recognized for his long-term service to the association and contributions made to the agricultural retail industry.  “As an early and outspoken advocate for ResponsibleAg, his focus has been on the good of the industry rather than proprietary business concerns.  He has made a lasting positive mark on the ag retail industry and on ARA,” says Daren Coppock, ARA president and CEO.  Our congratulations go out to Tip for receiving this honorary award!

Special Delivery!

Tiffany and her husband Joe recently received a special visit from the stork.  They announced the birth of a bouncing baby boy, Wyatt Bernard, born on January 15, 2018 weighing in at 5 pounds, 15 ounces and 18 3/4 inches long.  Tiffany is responsible for Pesticide Production Reports, EPA establishment numbers, the customer database and Fire Prevention Plans.  Congratulations on the new arrival!

Ag Industry Loses a True Pioneer

We were saddened to learn that Don Schafer with Chebanse Ag died Monday, January 8, 2018.  Don was 85 years old and a true pioneer in the business.  He was a farmer for many years before starting to sell fertilizer off the farm in 1963.  He started Chebanse Crop Service in 1970 with partners and bought a grain elevator in 1976. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for one of his customers.  Don and his wife Elsie raised a large family and their children remain active in the ag business today, carrying on the tradition of outstanding service that Don was known for.  We have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Don since 1998.  Our thoughts and prayers go to Don’s family, friends and the employees of Chebanse Ag.

SARA: Don't Let the March 1st Deadline Slip Up on You

As a reminder worth mentioning, SARA Tier II submissions are due on March 1st. These are annual requirements that most retailers are familiar with; however, the penalties have become quite severe for non-compliance. We believe it is prudent to remind our clients of the upcoming deadline. Each of our clients required to submit a SARA Tier II Report will have received either a Master Report and/or a Zip File to be used by the facility personnel in reporting and certifying the data electronically as mandated by their state, or the packet of traditional hard copies to be signed, certified and submitted to their State Emergency Response Commission, Local Emergency Planning Commission and Fire Department. Don't forget to follow your state's instructions to pay any applicable fees.

Note: We will once again ask that you send us a file copy of your Tier II documentation filed with the State. We review the documentation for completeness, scan and archive the final version on Snapshots. We provide this extra level of service because we find that more than 20% of the reports have never been acknowledged by the State - so the facility believes they have submitted when the State doesn't have any record of it.

Pesticide-Production Report Update

Reminder: Asmark Institute submits and documents receipt of the Pesticide Production Report by U.S. EPA for each of our clients. All clients' reports are currently out for proof and should be returned as soon as possible. Susan is responsible for this process this year and can be contacted at susan@asmark.org or by phone at 270-926-4600, Ext 226. Plans are to file all annual reports on schedule to be received by U.S. EPA by the March 1st deadline. For the second year, we will utilize the new CDX system to electronically file all reports. We have worked closely with U.S. EPA to help develop this system over the past few years.

Reminder: Time to Post Your 300A

It's time to complete your 2017 injury and illness recordkeeping obligations by posting the Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300A). OSHA requires that the notice be displayed from February 1st to April 30th of each year in a conspicuous place where employee notices are customarily posted. Businesses with no injuries or illnesses for the year must still post the form. A company official must certify the information in Form 300A was examined and is believed to be correct and complete. Click here to access the form and instructions.

New for 2018: Asmark University

The Asmark Institute is set to launch our first course developed to provide a better understanding of how our system works.  Asmark University is a 3 1/2 day course designed for EHS&S professionals with responsibilities for locations and State Association personnel with member service responsibilities that include providing help on regulatory issues.  Asmark University is designed to provide a wider knowledge that is more in-depth.  It’s been developed with the objective of providing a better understanding of how the system works so those risk management professionals tasked with responsibility for facilities will be better prepared to leverage their knowledge to support their locations.

Asmark University is an interactive course.  Literally every employee of the Asmark Institute will be involved in teaching this truly interactive course.  Staff, known as “professors,” will alternate between the website and any of the more than fifty databases used throughout the Asmark Institute system, providing participants with a good understanding of each process.  Knowledge is understanding your resources so well that you are able to help any client when they need it, and this course will help multiply the effort to help each location.

Consolidation Chart Updated to Reflect 2017

Accurately tracking the consolidation within ag retail is challenging, but thanks to CropLife magazine's Top 100 list, along with hours of research, the Consolidation Chart has been updated to visually portray its heritage. Initially released in 2011, the chart includes all the mergers/acquisitions among CropLife 100 retailers that have taken place since 1984.  Thanks to Donna and Joann for their work each year on updating the chart.  To view a full version of this poster, please click here. For more information, contact Donna at Ext 205 or by email at donna@asmark.org.

West, Texas, Accepts $10.4M Settlement in 2013 Fertilizer Plant Blast Suit

A Central Texas town devastated by a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people, many of them emergency personnel, has reached a settlement of its lawsuit for damages caused by the blast.  The city council in West this week approved of accepting $10.44 million to settle its claims against the defendants, including makers and suppliers of ammonium nitrate, the explosive fertilizer involved in the blast, and Adair Grain Inc., owner of the fertilizer plant itself.  In a statement, Mayor Tommy Muska said he is pleased with the settlement.  Attorney Steve Harrison, who represented the city, said manufacturer CF Industries will pay $6.4 million, supplier El Dorado Chemical will pay $3.9 million and Adair Grain will pay $143,000.

NTIP Spring Training Dates Announced

We are pleased to offer the new 2018 Spring schedule for the NTIP "CT" Course.  This one day course is designed to help train employees to understand their duties associated with the proper pressure, thickness and visual test/inspections for nurse tanks used for anhydrous ammonia, and will serve to provide the initial and three year refresher training.  Participants will receive a certificate valid for three years, which fulfills the training requirements for DOT's function-specific training for hazardous materials.

CT inspectors who are eligible to renew their Asmark Institute "CT" Training - watch your mail for your personalized reminder invitation.  Classes are limited to 22 participants, so register today to ensure you get the class date most convenient to you. Click here to register.

Annual Review Reaches New Heights

While compliance season is well underway, the Driver File Department is celebrating the end of the 2017 Annual Review process!  Between the months of July and December, the driver file department reviews all U.S. and Canadian files in accordance with the Annual Review rules to ensure your drivers stay qualified and active on the road.  Ashley, Morgan and Kendal in the Driver File Department appreciate the timely response from each facility in completing the necessary paperwork to make this another successful review season.

2017 Annual Review by the Numbers

3Staff
14Red pens
41Pots of coffee
123Days
9,333Motor vehicle reports
9,809Active driver files
11,454Terminated driver files
19,618Signatures

Opioid Screening Now Included in DOT Drug Testing Panel

Beginning on January 1, 2018, the existing DOT drug testing panel (including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP) and opiates), will be expanded to also test for four semi-synthetic opioids (i.e., hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone).  Some common names for these semi-synthetic opioids include OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®, Dilaudid®, Exalgo®.  This change is designed to reflect our country’s growing opiate epidemic by including some of today’s most commonly prescribed and abused substances.

If an individual tests positive for any of the semi-synthetic opioid drugs, then as with any other drug test result, the Medical Review Officer (MRO) will conduct an interview to determine if there is a legitimate medical explanation for the result.  If the individual has a valid prescription, it should be provided to the MRO, who will determine if the prescription is valid.  If a legitimate medical explanation is established, the MRO will report the result as a ‘negative’.  If not, the MRO will report the result as ‘positive’. For more information you should contact the company that administers your drug testing program.

Getting Smarter With Every Training Certificate

Training seemed a lot simpler back in the early 90’s when we only had 25 clients and training “kits” were shipped in aluminum record boxes.  Shuttling certificates and VHS videos back and forth was a system begging to be improved.  As the number of clients grew over the years, so did the improvements.  In 1998 it was a tracking system with barcodes that sped up the process of checking the videos in and out.  By 1999 we made a set of videos that could be kept onsite, eliminating the need for shuttling the kits.  The result was a savings of thousands of dollars on UPS per year.

Great strides were made as the volume increased in automating the certificates over the years.  These newfound efficiencies allowed us to lower the initial price of $2.50 per person to $1.00.  2009 ushered in the new DVD format.  Spanish topics were also produced in 2009 and an in-house production system was developed to ensure each of our topics are updated with new footage every 5 years.

In came the age of scanning and yet more potential to control costs for the client.  First released in 2014, Version 1.0 of the electronic return program was an experiment to see if certificates scanned by a fleet of 1,000+ scanners of all makes and models was even possible.  The system proved to be popular by providing more time for completion and resulted in tremendous savings by not having to mail or UPS the certificates back to us.  For 2018, watch for Version 2.0 of the new electronic return program to be introduced.  Clients can expect the new process to work the same but be a little more friendly, flexible and hopefully efficient - less frustrating if you happen to be one of those locations that has never been approved to utilize the electronic return system.  (Tip: The key to successful scanning is the printing - makes sense that you can’t scan a bad copy.)

While the aluminum record boxes may have served a purpose in our history, they will never be nominated for any awards.  On the other hand, Version 2.0 of the new electronic scanning program is expected to be a crowd pleaser in a lot of little ways, especially if you are someone who handles any of the 500,000 or more training certificates processed per year.

Future of DVD-Based Training

It doesn’t seem that long ago when every little town had a video store or two.  Then, those were replaced by a little red box where you could get DVD, Blu-ray and game rentals.  Today, even Redbox has announced an on-demand streaming service.  Over the years, the system used for training employees has also changed.  Some of you will remember when we provided monthly training on VHS tapes that were shuttled back and forth between our location and the farm center.  Then eventually there were VHS tapes onsite, which were replaced by DVDs in 2009.

In the future, we believe transitioning to an online training system where videos are streamed will replace the need for hardcopy media.  Just as it took a while for locations to be ready to change from VHS to DVD, we know not everyone is ready for online streaming.  This will be something to work towards in the next 5-7 years.  So if you are planning to upgrade your meeting area or break room, it would be prudent to go ahead and consider including the capability to show online video on a screen large enough to conduct your monthly training meetings.  The primary barrier that may delay the adoption of streaming is the availability of adequate bandwidth in rural areas.  Stay tuned for more information as we look to improve the way training is offered as DVDs become a memory.  For more information, contact Dustin Warder at 270-926-4600, Ext 203 or by email at dustin@asmark.org.

OSHA Increases Fines While Inspections and Citations are on the Rise

At a time when most would guess that regulatory action is slowed, on January 2nd OSHA increased its monetary fines for violations of its standards and regulations.  The increase of about two percent is the Agency’s annual adjustment for inflation.  Below is a chart of the fine amounts for 2018:
 Serious Violation $12,934
 Other-Than-Serious $12,934
 Willful $9,239-$129,339
 Repeated $129,339
 Posting Requirement $12,934
 Failure to Abate $12,934

This is especially interesting when you note that there has been an uptick in the number of inspections and violations at the end of FY2017 as well.  Here are the number of inspections and violations cited for May through August 2017:

 May 2017June 2017July 2017August 2017
 # of Inspections2,7612,9562,4344,309
 # of Violations Cited4,3694,3044,1255,213

“Doubling-Down” on Our Website

We may be a small dot as shown on the big map of the internet, but they say big things come in small packages.  As our partner, you rely on our website for the tools and resources to help with your risk management efforts. Dependability is a word our clients have come to expect from us and, when it comes to a critical tool like the website, it has to be there for you when you need it.  Tyler and Eric are the staff on our IT team responsible for the website and are constantly watching for new and innovative ways to improve our website.  Our secret weapon to help ensure the website never goes down is through the use of two - not just one - internet service providers from two diferent parts of the country.  Our team sourced very unique equipment that “bonds” both of the internet connections together, allowing us to maximize the bandwidth and ensure 24/7/365 availability.  For you, this means in the event one of our service providers goes down, our website stays online using the other provider.  Pretty cool stuff - but at the end of the day it simply “doubles-down” on our dependability of ensuring our clients have uninterrupted access to the tools and resources they need, when they need them.

Dicamba...And Your State Will Too

It started with Illinois leading the effort to offer dicamba training classes in November.  Since then we have seen announcements from Indiana, Tennessee and now Iowa, with similar - but not exactly the same - requirements.  If you plan to use dicamba products this spring and you aren’t familiar with your state’s requirements, now would be a great time to take a look.  Up to this point it looks like the states are going to require that training is received in the state that the application will take place, with no reciprocity between states on this subject.  Make plans today to attend a dicamba training session in your area.  The earlier the better!  For a fast start, click on the state of your choice for more information: Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee or Iowa.

USPS and UPS Rates Increase Yet Again

The Postal Service implemented a postage rate increase on Sunday, January 21, 2018. There are a number of products and services affected by the rate increase but the most commonly used services in our industry are listed below:
  • First-Class Mail Letter rate increased from $0.49 to $0.50 for a 1 oz. envelope.  The rate for each additional ounce is $0.21.
  • First Class Mail Flat Envelope rate increased from $0.98 to $1.00 for a 1 oz. envelope.  The rate for each additional ounce is $0.21.
  • First Class Mail Postcard rate increased from $0.34 to $0.35.
  • Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope increased $0.05 to $6.70.

Overall, the new rates increased the First Class Service rates approximately 1.9% and the Priority Mail Service rates approximately 3.9%.  As usual, the United Parcel Service (UPS) increased its prices by 4.9% toward the end of 2017.  UPS is known for increasing their rates about this much on an annual basis.

With the North American paper industry in rapid decline and the cost of mailing and shipping rates increasing every year, there is no better time than now to sign up for the Electronic Service Program (ESP).  Click here to review the ESP program and sign up today!

Protecting Your Privacy and Data: Top Priority

Staying out of the limelight both literally and figuratively has proven to be a smart move in protecting the privacy of our clients and security of data.  We don’t believe in the saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” which for us translates into we don’t want to wind up on the nightly news as the source of a security breach.  Security is a collection of strategic details that work to form layers of protection.  From where our office is located to how our back-up systems are built, everything is by design to remain “unseen” and mitigate our risk of potential threats.

We take our responsibility to protect our clients and their data very seriously.  As one of the first organizations to secure a cyber-security insurance policy, we continue to watch and remain alert to an ever-changing world of security breaches and emerging threats.  Ensuring data is handled properly and security measures are implemented and updated is a key function of Asmark’s IT team.  Asmark is very fortunate to have our own in-house programmers that have built and maintain our website and databases and of course security measures.

We use several virtual safeguards to protect client information such as being our own Internet Service Provider (ISP), using proprietary firewalls and the use of VeriSign for the encryption of data.  Additionally, we incorporate numerous operational safeguards in our system such as shredding of documents that contain personal or security-sensitive information.

Noticeably absent from the Asmark Institute system is the use of any cloud-based storage of data.  We purposely elected to construct and utilize an onsite Catastrophic Backup System which provides a complete backup of our entire website and operating system every 15 minutes.  This strategy allows us to know exactly where the data we are responsible for is at all times - and in exactly whose hands.

In light of the recent Equifax and Experian data breaches, the government is exploring replacements for social security numbers as a means of identification.  Originally developed for financial data in 1936, “social security numbers may soon outlive their usefulness” according to Rob Joyce, Cybersecurity Coordinator for the White House.  Rest assured whatever system developed by the government will be incorporated into our system with the same degree of protection we’ve shown over the years.

Syngenta Responds: Hurricane Maria

Check out Syngenta’s effort to help after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last fall.  Dave Flakne with Syngenta created this video to share with us.  This video tells a great story!  Syngenta has done significant work on the island to help their employees and the communities respond to this natural disaster.  Syngenta’s efforts kicked into high gear just days after the hurricane hit - September 20th.  Puerto Rico is important to agriculture.  Regardless of where you are in the row crop industry, your seed probably made its way to and from Puerto Rico as part of its development and improvement.

ELD Exemption Requests Hit Federal Register

Both the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) have had requests for Electronic Logging Device (ELD) exemptions that were recently published in the Federal Register.  If granted OOIDA’s request would allow small trucking businesses that do not have a carrier safety rating of "unsatisfactory," and can document a proven history of safety performance with no attributable at-fault crashes to use paper logs.  OOIDA states the exemption would provide owner-operators relief from burdensome device installation and maintenance costs as well as the unresolved enforcement, cyber-security and privacy concerns associated with the ELD mandate.  The public comment period for was open until February 1st.

Similarly, ARA states that the ELD requirement imposes undue economic and other burdens on its member retailers. They state that ELDs fail to properly record the complex hours of service data, are not properly certified by the FMCSA and do not provide appropriate cyber-security safeguards.  ARA also points out that ELDs will not function properly in many locations in rural America because of poor internet and cellular connectivity.  The public comment period for this request was open until January 29th.

IRS Increases Standard Mileage Rates for 2018

The IRS has issued the 2018 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.  Beginning on January 1, 2018, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:
  • 54.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017
  • 18 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations
The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs. Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

CSB Releases New Safety Video

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a safety video about the October 21, 2016, toxic chemical release at the MGPI Processing facility in Atchison, Kansas.  The release resulted in over 140 reported injuries and approximately 11,000 citizens forced to evacuate or shelter-in-place. This occurred during a routine chemical delivery when two incompatible chemicals – sulfuric acid and sodium hypochlorite – were inadvertently mixed, forming a toxic cloud.

The 11 minute video entitled, “Mixed Connection: Toxic Result,” includes a 3D animation of the incident, as well as interviews with a CSB investigator and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. The video can be viewed by clicking here.

O’Neill Honored with ARA’s Lifetime Achievement Award

The Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) honored William “Tip” O’Neill with the 2017 Jack Eberspacher Lifetime Achievement Award during their Annual Conference and Expo in Phoenix, AZ.  In a career spanning more than 40 years, Tip was recognized for his long-term service to the association and contributions made to the agricultural retail industry.  “As an early and outspoken advocate for ResponsibleAg, his focus has been on the good of the industry rather than proprietary business concerns.  He has made a lasting positive mark on the ag retail industry and on ARA,” says Daren Coppock, ARA president and CEO.  Our congratulations go out to Tip for receiving this honorary award!

Special Delivery!

Tiffany and her husband Joe recently received a special visit from the stork.  They announced the birth of a bouncing baby boy, Wyatt Bernard, born on January 15, 2018 weighing in at 5 pounds, 15 ounces and 18 3/4 inches long.  Tiffany is responsible for Pesticide Production Reports, EPA establishment numbers, the customer database and Fire Prevention Plans.  Congratulations on the new arrival!

Ag Industry Loses a True Pioneer

We were saddened to learn that Don Schafer with Chebanse Ag died Monday, January 8, 2018.  Don was 85 years old and a true pioneer in the business.  He was a farmer for many years before starting to sell fertilizer off the farm in 1963.  He started Chebanse Crop Service in 1970 with partners and bought a grain elevator in 1976. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for one of his customers.  Don and his wife Elsie raised a large family and their children remain active in the ag business today, carrying on the tradition of outstanding service that Don was known for.  We have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Don since 1998.  Our thoughts and prayers go to Don’s family, friends and the employees of Chebanse Ag.

SARA: Don't Let the March 1st Deadline Slip Up on You

As a reminder worth mentioning, SARA Tier II submissions are due on March 1st. These are annual requirements that most retailers are familiar with; however, the penalties have become quite severe for non-compliance. We believe it is prudent to remind our clients of the upcoming deadline. Each of our clients required to submit a SARA Tier II Report will have received either a Master Report and/or a Zip File to be used by the facility personnel in reporting and certifying the data electronically as mandated by their state, or the packet of traditional hard copies to be signed, certified and submitted to their State Emergency Response Commission, Local Emergency Planning Commission and Fire Department. Don't forget to follow your state's instructions to pay any applicable fees.

Note: We will once again ask that you send us a file copy of your Tier II documentation filed with the State. We review the documentation for completeness, scan and archive the final version on Snapshots. We provide this extra level of service because we find that more than 20% of the reports have never been acknowledged by the State - so the facility believes they have submitted when the State doesn't have any record of it.

Pesticide-Production Report Update

Reminder: Asmark Institute submits and documents receipt of the Pesticide Production Report by U.S. EPA for each of our clients. All clients' reports are currently out for proof and should be returned as soon as possible. Susan is responsible for this process this year and can be contacted at susan@asmark.org or by phone at 270-926-4600, Ext 226. Plans are to file all annual reports on schedule to be received by U.S. EPA by the March 1st deadline. For the second year, we will utilize the new CDX system to electronically file all reports. We have worked closely with U.S. EPA to help develop this system over the past few years.

Reminder: Time to Post Your 300A

It's time to complete your 2017 injury and illness recordkeeping obligations by posting the Summary of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses (OSHA Form 300A). OSHA requires that the notice be displayed from February 1st to April 30th of each year in a conspicuous place where employee notices are customarily posted. Businesses with no injuries or illnesses for the year must still post the form. A company official must certify the information in Form 300A was examined and is believed to be correct and complete. Click here to access the form and instructions.

New for 2018: Asmark University

The Asmark Institute is set to launch our first course developed to provide a better understanding of how our system works.  Asmark University is a 3 1/2 day course designed for EHS&S professionals with responsibilities for locations and State Association personnel with member service responsibilities that include providing help on regulatory issues.  Asmark University is designed to provide a wider knowledge that is more in-depth.  It’s been developed with the objective of providing a better understanding of how the system works so those risk management professionals tasked with responsibility for facilities will be better prepared to leverage their knowledge to support their locations.

Asmark University is an interactive course.  Literally every employee of the Asmark Institute will be involved in teaching this truly interactive course.  Staff, known as “professors,” will alternate between the website and any of the more than fifty databases used throughout the Asmark Institute system, providing participants with a good understanding of each process.  Knowledge is understanding your resources so well that you are able to help any client when they need it, and this course will help multiply the effort to help each location.

Consolidation Chart Updated to Reflect 2017

Accurately tracking the consolidation within ag retail is challenging, but thanks to CropLife magazine's Top 100 list, along with hours of research, the Consolidation Chart has been updated to visually portray its heritage. Initially released in 2011, the chart includes all the mergers/acquisitions among CropLife 100 retailers that have taken place since 1984.  Thanks to Donna and Joann for their work each year on updating the chart.  To view a full version of this poster, please click here. For more information, contact Donna at Ext 205 or by email at donna@asmark.org.

West, Texas, Accepts $10.4M Settlement in 2013 Fertilizer Plant Blast Suit

A Central Texas town devastated by a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people, many of them emergency personnel, has reached a settlement of its lawsuit for damages caused by the blast.  The city council in West this week approved of accepting $10.44 million to settle its claims against the defendants, including makers and suppliers of ammonium nitrate, the explosive fertilizer involved in the blast, and Adair Grain Inc., owner of the fertilizer plant itself.  In a statement, Mayor Tommy Muska said he is pleased with the settlement.  Attorney Steve Harrison, who represented the city, said manufacturer CF Industries will pay $6.4 million, supplier El Dorado Chemical will pay $3.9 million and Adair Grain will pay $143,000.

NTIP Spring Training Dates Announced

We are pleased to offer the new 2018 Spring schedule for the NTIP "CT" Course.  This one day course is designed to help train employees to understand their duties associated with the proper pressure, thickness and visual test/inspections for nurse tanks used for anhydrous ammonia, and will serve to provide the initial and three year refresher training.  Participants will receive a certificate valid for three years, which fulfills the training requirements for DOT's function-specific training for hazardous materials.

CT inspectors who are eligible to renew their Asmark Institute "CT" Training - watch your mail for your personalized reminder invitation.  Classes are limited to 22 participants, so register today to ensure you get the class date most convenient to you. Click here to register.

Annual Review Reaches New Heights

While compliance season is well underway, the Driver File Department is celebrating the end of the 2017 Annual Review process!  Between the months of July and December, the driver file department reviews all U.S. and Canadian files in accordance with the Annual Review rules to ensure your drivers stay qualified and active on the road.  Ashley, Morgan and Kendal in the Driver File Department appreciate the timely response from each facility in completing the necessary paperwork to make this another successful review season.

2017 Annual Review by the Numbers

3Staff
14Red pens
41Pots of coffee
123Days
9,333Motor vehicle reports
9,809Active driver files
11,454Terminated driver files
19,618Signatures

Opioid Screening Now Included in DOT Drug Testing Panel

Beginning on January 1, 2018, the existing DOT drug testing panel (including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, phencyclidine (PCP) and opiates), will be expanded to also test for four semi-synthetic opioids (i.e., hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone).  Some common names for these semi-synthetic opioids include OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Lortab®, Norco®, Dilaudid®, Exalgo®.  This change is designed to reflect our country’s growing opiate epidemic by including some of today’s most commonly prescribed and abused substances.

If an individual tests positive for any of the semi-synthetic opioid drugs, then as with any other drug test result, the Medical Review Officer (MRO) will conduct an interview to determine if there is a legitimate medical explanation for the result.  If the individual has a valid prescription, it should be provided to the MRO, who will determine if the prescription is valid.  If a legitimate medical explanation is established, the MRO will report the result as a ‘negative’.  If not, the MRO will report the result as ‘positive’. For more information you should contact the company that administers your drug testing program.

Getting Smarter With Every Training Certificate

Training seemed a lot simpler back in the early 90’s when we only had 25 clients and training “kits” were shipped in aluminum record boxes.  Shuttling certificates and VHS videos back and forth was a system begging to be improved.  As the number of clients grew over the years, so did the improvements.  In 1998 it was a tracking system with barcodes that sped up the process of checking the videos in and out.  By 1999 we made a set of videos that could be kept onsite, eliminating the need for shuttling the kits.  The result was a savings of thousands of dollars on UPS per year.

Great strides were made as the volume increased in automating the certificates over the years.  These newfound efficiencies allowed us to lower the initial price of $2.50 per person to $1.00.  2009 ushered in the new DVD format.  Spanish topics were also produced in 2009 and an in-house production system was developed to ensure each of our topics are updated with new footage every 5 years.

In came the age of scanning and yet more potential to control costs for the client.  First released in 2014, Version 1.0 of the electronic return program was an experiment to see if certificates scanned by a fleet of 1,000+ scanners of all makes and models was even possible.  The system proved to be popular by providing more time for completion and resulted in tremendous savings by not having to mail or UPS the certificates back to us.  For 2018, watch for Version 2.0 of the new electronic return program to be introduced.  Clients can expect the new process to work the same but be a little more friendly, flexible and hopefully efficient - less frustrating if you happen to be one of those locations that has never been approved to utilize the electronic return system.  (Tip: The key to successful scanning is the printing - makes sense that you can’t scan a bad copy.)

While the aluminum record boxes may have served a purpose in our history, they will never be nominated for any awards.  On the other hand, Version 2.0 of the new electronic scanning program is expected to be a crowd pleaser in a lot of little ways, especially if you are someone who handles any of the 500,000 or more training certificates processed per year.

Future of DVD-Based Training

It doesn’t seem that long ago when every little town had a video store or two.  Then, those were replaced by a little red box where you could get DVD, Blu-ray and game rentals.  Today, even Redbox has announced an on-demand streaming service.  Over the years, the system used for training employees has also changed.  Some of you will remember when we provided monthly training on VHS tapes that were shuttled back and forth between our location and the farm center.  Then eventually there were VHS tapes onsite, which were replaced by DVDs in 2009.

In the future, we believe transitioning to an online training system where videos are streamed will replace the need for hardcopy media.  Just as it took a while for locations to be ready to change from VHS to DVD, we know not everyone is ready for online streaming.  This will be something to work towards in the next 5-7 years.  So if you are planning to upgrade your meeting area or break room, it would be prudent to go ahead and consider including the capability to show online video on a screen large enough to conduct your monthly training meetings.  The primary barrier that may delay the adoption of streaming is the availability of adequate bandwidth in rural areas.  Stay tuned for more information as we look to improve the way training is offered as DVDs become a memory.  For more information, contact Dustin Warder at 270-926-4600, Ext 203 or by email at dustin@asmark.org.

OSHA Increases Fines While Inspections and Citations are on the Rise

At a time when most would guess that regulatory action is slowed, on January 2nd OSHA increased its monetary fines for violations of its standards and regulations.  The increase of about two percent is the Agency’s annual adjustment for inflation.  Below is a chart of the fine amounts for 2018:
 Serious Violation $12,934
 Other-Than-Serious $12,934
 Willful $9,239-$129,339
 Repeated $129,339
 Posting Requirement $12,934
 Failure to Abate $12,934

This is especially interesting when you note that there has been an uptick in the number of inspections and violations at the end of FY2017 as well.  Here are the number of inspections and violations cited for May through August 2017:

 May 2017June 2017July 2017August 2017
 # of Inspections2,7612,9562,4344,309
 # of Violations Cited4,3694,3044,1255,213

“Doubling-Down” on Our Website

We may be a small dot as shown on the big map of the internet, but they say big things come in small packages.  As our partner, you rely on our website for the tools and resources to help with your risk management efforts. Dependability is a word our clients have come to expect from us and, when it comes to a critical tool like the website, it has to be there for you when you need it.  Tyler and Eric are the staff on our IT team responsible for the website and are constantly watching for new and innovative ways to improve our website.  Our secret weapon to help ensure the website never goes down is through the use of two - not just one - internet service providers from two diferent parts of the country.  Our team sourced very unique equipment that “bonds” both of the internet connections together, allowing us to maximize the bandwidth and ensure 24/7/365 availability.  For you, this means in the event one of our service providers goes down, our website stays online using the other provider.  Pretty cool stuff - but at the end of the day it simply “doubles-down” on our dependability of ensuring our clients have uninterrupted access to the tools and resources they need, when they need them.

Dicamba...And Your State Will Too

It started with Illinois leading the effort to offer dicamba training classes in November.  Since then we have seen announcements from Indiana, Tennessee and now Iowa, with similar - but not exactly the same - requirements.  If you plan to use dicamba products this spring and you aren’t familiar with your state’s requirements, now would be a great time to take a look.  Up to this point it looks like the states are going to require that training is received in the state that the application will take place, with no reciprocity between states on this subject.  Make plans today to attend a dicamba training session in your area.  The earlier the better!  For a fast start, click on the state of your choice for more information: Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee or Iowa.

USPS and UPS Rates Increase Yet Again

The Postal Service implemented a postage rate increase on Sunday, January 21, 2018. There are a number of products and services affected by the rate increase but the most commonly used services in our industry are listed below:
  • First-Class Mail Letter rate increased from $0.49 to $0.50 for a 1 oz. envelope.  The rate for each additional ounce is $0.21.
  • First Class Mail Flat Envelope rate increased from $0.98 to $1.00 for a 1 oz. envelope.  The rate for each additional ounce is $0.21.
  • First Class Mail Postcard rate increased from $0.34 to $0.35.
  • Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope increased $0.05 to $6.70.

Overall, the new rates increased the First Class Service rates approximately 1.9% and the Priority Mail Service rates approximately 3.9%.  As usual, the United Parcel Service (UPS) increased its prices by 4.9% toward the end of 2017.  UPS is known for increasing their rates about this much on an annual basis.

With the North American paper industry in rapid decline and the cost of mailing and shipping rates increasing every year, there is no better time than now to sign up for the Electronic Service Program (ESP).  Click here to review the ESP program and sign up today!

Protecting Your Privacy and Data: Top Priority

Staying out of the limelight both literally and figuratively has proven to be a smart move in protecting the privacy of our clients and security of data.  We don’t believe in the saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” which for us translates into we don’t want to wind up on the nightly news as the source of a security breach.  Security is a collection of strategic details that work to form layers of protection.  From where our office is located to how our back-up systems are built, everything is by design to remain “unseen” and mitigate our risk of potential threats.

We take our responsibility to protect our clients and their data very seriously.  As one of the first organizations to secure a cyber-security insurance policy, we continue to watch and remain alert to an ever-changing world of security breaches and emerging threats.  Ensuring data is handled properly and security measures are implemented and updated is a key function of Asmark’s IT team.  Asmark is very fortunate to have our own in-house programmers that have built and maintain our website and databases and of course security measures.

We use several virtual safeguards to protect client information such as being our own Internet Service Provider (ISP), using proprietary firewalls and the use of VeriSign for the encryption of data.  Additionally, we incorporate numerous operational safeguards in our system such as shredding of documents that contain personal or security-sensitive information.

Noticeably absent from the Asmark Institute system is the use of any cloud-based storage of data.  We purposely elected to construct and utilize an onsite Catastrophic Backup System which provides a complete backup of our entire website and operating system every 15 minutes.  This strategy allows us to know exactly where the data we are responsible for is at all times - and in exactly whose hands.

In light of the recent Equifax and Experian data breaches, the government is exploring replacements for social security numbers as a means of identification.  Originally developed for financial data in 1936, “social security numbers may soon outlive their usefulness” according to Rob Joyce, Cybersecurity Coordinator for the White House.  Rest assured whatever system developed by the government will be incorporated into our system with the same degree of protection we’ve shown over the years.

Syngenta Responds: Hurricane Maria

Check out Syngenta’s effort to help after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last fall.  Dave Flakne with Syngenta created this video to share with us.  This video tells a great story!  Syngenta has done significant work on the island to help their employees and the communities respond to this natural disaster.  Syngenta’s efforts kicked into high gear just days after the hurricane hit - September 20th.  Puerto Rico is important to agriculture.  Regardless of where you are in the row crop industry, your seed probably made its way to and from Puerto Rico as part of its development and improvement.

ELD Exemption Requests Hit Federal Register

Both the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) have had requests for Electronic Logging Device (ELD) exemptions that were recently published in the Federal Register.  If granted OOIDA’s request would allow small trucking businesses that do not have a carrier safety rating of "unsatisfactory," and can document a proven history of safety performance with no attributable at-fault crashes to use paper logs.  OOIDA states the exemption would provide owner-operators relief from burdensome device installation and maintenance costs as well as the unresolved enforcement, cyber-security and privacy concerns associated with the ELD mandate.  The public comment period for was open until February 1st.

Similarly, ARA states that the ELD requirement imposes undue economic and other burdens on its member retailers. They state that ELDs fail to properly record the complex hours of service data, are not properly certified by the FMCSA and do not provide appropriate cyber-security safeguards.  ARA also points out that ELDs will not function properly in many locations in rural America because of poor internet and cellular connectivity.  The public comment period for this request was open until January 29th.

IRS Increases Standard Mileage Rates for 2018

The IRS has issued the 2018 optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating an automobile for business, charitable, medical or moving purposes.  Beginning on January 1, 2018, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:
  • 54.5 cents per mile for business miles driven, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017
  • 18 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes, up 1 cent from the rate for 2017
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations
The standard mileage rate for business is based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile. The rate for medical and moving purposes is based on the variable costs. Taxpayers always have the option of calculating the actual costs of using their vehicle rather than using the standard mileage rates.

CSB Releases New Safety Video

The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a safety video about the October 21, 2016, toxic chemical release at the MGPI Processing facility in Atchison, Kansas.  The release resulted in over 140 reported injuries and approximately 11,000 citizens forced to evacuate or shelter-in-place. This occurred during a routine chemical delivery when two incompatible chemicals – sulfuric acid and sodium hypochlorite – were inadvertently mixed, forming a toxic cloud.

The 11 minute video entitled, “Mixed Connection: Toxic Result,” includes a 3D animation of the incident, as well as interviews with a CSB investigator and Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. The video can be viewed by clicking here.
Asmark Institute, Inc. This information is believed to be reliable by the Asmark Institute, however, because of constantly changing government regulations, interpretations and applicability or the possibility of human, mechanical or computer error, the Asmark Institute does not guarantee the information as suitable for any particular purpose.