Keeping Construction Sites Safe: An Interview with Southern land Company’s Tim Street

Tim Street is the first full-time safety manager at Southern Land’s 4000 Hillsboro project. He brings decades of experience to the job, having spent 20 years in the Air Force working in quality control, safety and logistics. Since retiring from the military, he has spent the last nine years working in safety and completing his Masters in Occupational Safety.

Now, Tim says his job is to make sure that every day on site ends injury free. He spoke with Southern Land Company about creating a culture of safety, and why the safest sites are often the most collaborative.

SLC: What are some challenges to your job?

Tim Street: Typically, the safety guy is not the good guy. Workers on site typically have a fear of safety people – they think we’re going to write them up.  But I’ve learned through the years that I get better results if they’re not afraid of me.

How do you keep them from being afraid of you?

When I do a safety orientation, I make sure employees know I’m there for them. People get to know me by name. That’s really important, because I want everyone looking for safety issues, not just me.  I may have the knowledge of safety standards, but they’re the ones that help me identify when hazards that pop up.

It sounds like it’s less effective to make rules than to actually create a culture of safety.

You mentioned the key word there, culture. It’s a hard thing to establish, especially on a construction site, because there are a lot of people coming and going.  To create a culture, I’ve always taken three specific steps at any place I work.

The first is leadership or management.  From the top, you have to communicate and show that leadership is committed to taking care of their people.

The second part is that you want to teach everybody that he or she has some ownership and responsibility not just for themselves, but for everyone on the site. In the Air Force, it’s referred to as a “Wing Man Concept.”  This is used by fighter pilots during each mission as one jet goes on a bombing run, one jet stays up watching out, then they take turns.  Being a Wing Man on your job is taking ownership and responsibility, you want somebody watching over to make sure everything’s safe.

The third thing, which is always the hardest, is to actually apply training to the workplace. We can be educated, full of knowledge, but we have to be able to practice it. That’s the toughest part of establishing a good safety culture. Accidents typically come from someone not applying their knowledge or training. Accident reports, a lot of times, reveal that somebody didn’t understand or wasn’t confident with their job or that task. They may have had the proper training but didn’t really know how to apply it correctly.

How do you measure your success at the job?

Every day I go home with no one injured on the job, I can leave and say, “This is a good day.”