By Anne Deere
For Memphis Stone & Gravel Co.’s Kenny Wooten and Spencer Higganbothan, working as a family, watching each other’s back and “going home just as you came in” are some of the commitments they make at the workplace to create a strong safety culture. NSSGA met with Kenny and Spencer to discuss their commitment to safety and hear their stories of safety awareness.
Kenny Wooten is a foreman at the crusher and has been with Memphis Stone & Gravel for twenty-one years. To Kenny, it is important to act as a family at work. Watching out for other members of the team is a commitment he makes to ensure everyone goes home safely to their families every day.
In addition to supporting his fellow miners, Kenny personally implements safety into his everyday work by always following proper lock-out-tag-out procedures, vigilantly inspecting his work area and consistently checking his surroundings. “No matter how long you’ve been on the job, you have to keep focused and be alert of your surroundings. When you’ve been on the job for a long time and get too comfortable that’s when you’ll start to mess up,” said Wooten. He recommends treating everyday like it’s your first day of work – which is great advice, because complacency is one of the greatest hazards on the job – and it’s one Kenny knows firsthand.
Several years back, Kenny was in the process of breaking down the crusher and his former boss wanted to get a better look, so he walked under the feeder beam which had been elevated. “I told him to step back because these things may break, as soon as I told him that, 15 seconds later it broke and came down. If his head had been under it, he would have been killed.” Kenny likely saved his boss’ life that day and lives by the motto, “if you see something, say something.”
Over his career in the industry, he has also seen the conversation about safety evolve. At the beginning of Wooten’s career, safety was not regularly in the spotlight, but now it is talked about every day. “Work used to be about getting the job done but today it is about both being safe and getting the job done.” This is important to ensure not only the safety of the team, but also the success of the job.
Spencer Higganbothan, assistant foreman at Memphis Stone & Gravel Co., has seen similar safety changes in the industry over time, as he has been in the construction industry for decades. When he first started at Memphis Stone & Gravel Co., there were safety programs, but they were not as strong as they are now. There is a greater focus on safety and understanding that, according to Spencer, “You can only get production done if you follow safety.”
Spencer also shared his perspective on building a strong safety culture: “If you see one of your colleagues doing something unsafe, it is your job to approach them and show them what they’re doing wrong and how to do it the right way.” He’s experienced a great response with this too; if an unsafe action is brought to a miner’s attention, they thank each other because their crew mentality is so strong.
All of these actions come back to having a safety “family” at work. Spencer’s favorite part of the job is being with his coworkers. He explains that it’s important to have each other’s back because safety is not individual– it takes a consistent group effort. “We talk about safety in the mornings at our daily huddle up and throughout the day. We talk about safety first and then our tasks for the day.” Spencer notes it is also key bringing new members of a safety family on board the right way, which means leading by example. “If you show a new person how to do the job safely, they will learn safety.”
It is clear both Kenny and Spencer are committed to safety in their everyday work. Having each other’s back and consistently paying attention to potential safety hazards are just some of the ways they make sure everyone goes home the same way they were when they showed up at work. Memphis Stone & Gravel Co. employees show that thanks to their teamwork and family-like atmosphere, they have a safety culture they can be proud of.