In 1989, after he left the US Navy, Tim Palmer was working as an emergency medical technician and pursuing his nursing degree when someone called asking for a favor. His brother, a construction foreman, was a supervisor on a job site where an injury had just occurred. He needed help taking care of his employees. Suddenly, Palmer went from waiting for accidents to happen to preventing workplace injuries before they occur.
That was the start of what has become a long career in safety. Palmer entered the field as an assistant safety officer on that project and spent 10 years working in the oil and gas industry, helping create safety processes and building a culture anchored by a singular focus of protecting people. In doing so, he grew even more passionate about his work as a safety professional. “Doing something proactive to keep bad things from happening to good people became a life passion for me,” he says. “It really fits who I am as a person.”
Palmer is the son of a welder and grew up in a blue-collar family. He knows how devastating workplace injuries can be, especially in fields like construction and oil and gas, where workers experience injuries related to slip and falls, falls from height, electrocution, and heavy machinery.
“My role is to do everything I can to make sure the companies I serve have processes, policies, procedures, and practices in place to make sure our people get home safe,” he says. Over the second decade of his career, Palmer stepped into corporate leadership roles. He worked with his teams to grow and implement award-winning safety programs, then collaborated on projects overseas as a division safety manager for a large EPC construction firm.
In 2011, Palmer and Wanzek Construction found each other—he calls it the “best and most caring company” he’s ever worked with. Palmer worked with others to build the critical safety elements of a successful program and returned full-time in 2019 as the company’s vice president of environmental health and safety.
While many companies preach safety, Wanzek devotes the time, money, and human capital necessary to make it the cornerstone of company’s culture. Wanzek truly cares about its people, which ultimately is what compelled Palmer to return and partner his dedicated team with people and clients across the country to identify and mitigate hazards and risks.
“We build, repair, and improve solar plants, wind turbines, and industrial facilities. It takes great people to make that happen,” the VP says. “Protecting those people is the most important part of what we do. We call it our #Protect belief and every person, from our executive team to the professional craft personnel, is fully committed to it.”
In 2008, Wanzek was purchased by MasTec, Inc., a multinational infrastructure engineering and construction company based in Coral Gables, Florida. Since then, Wanzek has grown from a $200 million company to a $1 billion company. It provides construction services in power, renewable energy, oil and gas, infrastructure and agriculture, and other related industries. The client-focused company is committed to pursuing growth while being the best in all areas. Palmer’s job is to make sure Wanzek accomplishes these goals by supporting its operations team and embodying the #Protect belief.
For Palmer, a meaningful workplace safety program includes strong policies, effective training, and authentic engagement at all levels. He believes that safety issues are out in the field where the workers are and each year, he travels to numerous Wanzek sites and presents cultural safety sessions known internally as “Protect What Matters Most.”
The VP asks his colleagues to write down the names of each person who would be impacted if they didn’t return home at the end of a shift. The practice, he says, sets the tone for a deep conversation about the importance of practicing safety every day and helps each person understand why a commitment to workplace safety is critical.
The proactive safety program at Wanzek also includes a series of observations/inspections that involve field supervision and craft workers known as R4, designed to drive personal involvement and engagement. The four Rs—Review, Recognize, Recommend, and Reinforce—help employees remember to spot potential hazards and correct risky behaviors. Data collected through an elaborate safety management system helps Palmer and the Wanzek leadership take necessary actions to address the top risks identified and react in real time to address the issue. The result is a zero-incidents culture.
It’s been more than three decades since Palmer transitioned out of the ambulance and into construction, but he’s never looked back. “It’s a great honor to work with a team of amazing people to help prevent injuries because you’re not just impacting one person, you’re impacting all the people they interact with including their family and community,” he says.
Over the years, Palmer has developed a reputation for results, and being known as Wanzek’s resident safety expert makes for some interesting conversations. His colleagues often seek him out to confess about something needlessly dangerous they’ve done—or almost done—at home.
“People often tell me they were about to do something they would never do at work, but then they saw my face and stopped,” Palmer says, laughing. “That’s probably the best compliment someone like me can receive. It means I’ve done my job so they can keep doing theirs.”