The pinnacle of safety

Tennessee team earns top industry honor

"I’ve worked in construction and similar fields for a long time and I’ve never felt as safe as I do here,” says Thomas Shillings. “And that radiates throughout this quarry. It’s an honor to be at a place where they really care.”

Shillings, a quality control technician at Chattanooga Quarry for the past two years, is reflecting upon the team’s most recent accolade, the National Mining Association’s Sentinels of Safety Award.

The East Division’s Chattanooga Quarry, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, recently won the National Mining Association’s Sentinels of Safety Award.

The industry’s oldest and most prestigious honor, the award is presented to only the safest mining operations. Mark Brown, Chattanooga’s plant manager, has been in mining since 1984 and says winning the award is the pinnacle of his career. Though thrilled to be leading a Sentinels of Safety team, he’s quick to take a back seat, preferring instead to recognize the men and women who drive the site’s success.

With a mixture of experience and enthusiasm, the team balances perfectly between tried-and-true methods and a willingness to experiment, Brown says. The result? Chattanooga has been increasingly productive while going more than five years without a reportable incident.

“The most important thing we do is communicate,” Brown says. “We have tailgate meetings in the morning and it just goes down the line. We talk before, during and after each job. If you’re in the pit, you’ll hear the radio chatter going on. It’s a little communication, but it’s important. It tells you that everyone is looking out for one another.”

Mechanic Sean Barry, a safety mentor at Chattanooga, says that in addition to maintaining safety, the team’s high level of communication results in a great deal of education, which is equally important.

“There are questions here every day and if I can’t handle them, we have about a half-dozen others who can,” he says. “We work through it together. It’s a round-robin approach. If you’re in mining and you think you know it all, or have seen it all, then you’re in the wrong business.”

Looking beyond the Chattanooga team, Brown says the efforts of employees in the North Georgia District and East Division also contributed greatly to Chattanooga’s Sentinels of Safety Award.

Division President Ron Kopplin acknowledges the work of district and division professionals, including those in human resources, safety, engineering and other specialties, but believes the Chattanooga team deserves to be singled out for its achievements.

“This honor places Chattanooga in an exclusive group as just a handful of Martin Marietta’s operations have earned a Sentinels of Safety Award,” he says. “What Mark and every member of this team have accomplished is extraordinary. They’ve set an example not just for our operations in the East Division, but for operations across the company.”