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Relentless Ally Jim Twilley: A lesson He Could Live With
July 27, 2015
Jim Twilley is the general superintendent for our Special Projects Group in Houston.
He’s also a man who is known for his solid commitment to Zero Harm and a relentless ally for the safety of his teammates.
Jim admits that he wasn’t exactly born a safety fanatic. Like anyone who has been in construction as long as he has (46 years), he remembers starting out as a Heavy Equipment Operator in a time when there was no OSHA and people had to fend for themselves. He’s taken his fair share of ‘short cuts’ over the years and he has the physical scars to prove it.
These days, he’s a lot more careful when it comes to safety at work. Not because he has to be, but because he truly wants to be – he has teammates to protect.
Jim’s attitude on safety took a dramatic turn one day in the 70’s when he was erecting a tower crane, pulling a hoist cable to the end of a boom. He wasn't tied off so when he stepped in a hole and lost his balance, he fell between the lacings of the boom and found himself 300 feet up in the air, clinging to the cable that was being held at the other end by his trusted teammate, Max, who managed to hold him and bring him back to safety.
Once his death-defying ordeal was over, Jim asked Max: “if I had fallen, would you have held me?” Max’s response has stuck with him ever since. “He looked at me straight in the eye and said ‘I would have held you or I would have gone off with you.'"
For Jim, this is was the watershed moment where he finally understood the importance of safety. It wasn’t what happened, it was what Max said that inspired a change in his mindset and behavior. “My teammate cared about me so much, he would have gone off with me. If anything in my whole career ever made me understand what caring about your teammates really means, this was it.”
This is the attitude that really explains and drives the commitment to Zero Harm that Jim is known for. As he explains, “it’s not really about being passionate about safety as a concept, it’s about being passionate about the people you work with. I care about each and every person I work with and I don’t ever want them or their families to suffer.”
As a leader who has some 30-40 superintendents and project teams working under him at any given time, Jim has to be able to trust in his teams to adopt the same rigorous standards that he has set for himself. And in the 13 years he has spent with the company, he is pleased to see that this is genuinely the case: “The people I work with really seem to care – and that’s what makes all the difference.”
While he can’t watch over every project team with a magnifying glass, he does set clear expectations from the outset and he holds his teams accountable for meeting them. In his eyes, it’s a question of ethics more than anything else: “If you want to be the best, you have to be the best at all of it. If someone gets hurt and you haven’t done the best that you can do to prevent that, it’s just not right!”
Jim admits that he sets his expectations high – but in his eyes, the stakes they are playing with are just as high: “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t embrace Zero Harm and someone got seriously hurt. They might recover, but I won’t.”
Sometimes, the pain isn’t physical. “I’ve had to let people go over Zero Harm violations. It really hurts me to make those decisions but I have to do it, for everyone’s sake and I would do it again if need be. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t.”
In Jim’s view, it shouldn’t have to take a dramatic event to make you understand the importance of safety – and he hopes this is something that nobody has to face. Instead, he would hope that everyone in Team BBC can embrace Zero Harm for what it is – a source of protection for you, your teammates and your loved ones.
As we end our conversation with Jim, he speaks about some of his other passions (including motorcycles) and the essence of Jim’s character and motivations is made all the more clear.
He’s not a man who is pedantic about risk and he isn’t someone who believes in policing others. He’s just a leader who cares deeply about his teammates. And for Jim – who once had a teammate willing to sacrifice his life for him – embracing Zero Harm is the least he can do for them.