How Safety Director Mike Vanhooser's near-death experience informs his outlook on life and safety

Construction work is particularly dangerous, and proactive safety measures are crucial. Mike Vanhooser, BELL’s Safety Director, joined our team last year with more than ten years of extensive defense contracting, construction and safety experience. In his role, Mike brings strong leadership to our safety program and helps ensure we have the most proactive measures in place to protect our team.

The word “safety” takes on a unique meaning to Mike. In 2014, Mike was hit head-on by a semi-truck while driving home from work and life-flighted to the emergency department after a jaws-of-life rescue. As a result of the crash, Mike had a traumatic brain injury and multiple fractures, including his C1, T4 and L3 vertebrae, both right and left radius and ulna, humerus, hip and both femurs. The crash impact was so intense he lost all memory from three weeks before the accident to seven months afterward.

While many people could let this experience negatively impact their lives, Mike decided to embrace the positive. Each day, Mike feels grateful to get out of bed. We sat down with him to learn more about how his experience informs the important work he does at BELL. Mike hopes his story will inspire others to make safe decisions, even when they may seem insignificant.

How does your near-fatal accident inform your perspective on safety?

Most safety professionals haven’t experienced a severe injury, let alone a near-death experience. I never thought something like this would happen to me. I’m the living story that it can happen to you, and I tell my team to take that extra second to think before they take action. The experience has allowed me to become more empathetic, which lets me put myself in their shoes and communicate what can happen and why they should take additional steps to remain safe.

How are you enhancing BELL's safety culture? What are your current priorities?

The BELL Safety Team is focused on developing and implementing, not just talking about, systems intended to make safety easy. We strive to continuously grow the safety knowledge of our team, which enables us to be informed and aware of hazards in the field and maintain greater safety-focused communication. We want our team to see that we’re serious about developing and implementing the best and safest practices possible.

For example, the World Health Organization found that road traffic injuries were the leading killer of people aged 5-29 years old in 2018. Since driving is a critical component of many team members’ roles at BELL, we’ve implemented the ClickSafety Defensive Driver training. All BELL team members who either 1) operate a BELL-owned vehicle or 2) drive while on company time are required to complete the training. Defensive driver training helps team members better understand safe driving, develop an awareness of critical driver safety issues, and receive tips on how to navigate common hazards.

My team has also assisted in the development of a Pre-Project Safety Checklist to plan for and mitigate hazards. The BELL Safety Team uses the checklist to work with project management teams and identify safety-sensitive operations prior to breaking ground. Planning for potential exposures usually results in safer operations and lower costs to our clients.

What do you enjoy most about your role? What do you enjoy most about working at BELL?

Safety is one of BELL’s core values, so it makes it easy for me to maintain my passion for leading people and making a positive impact. In my role at BELL, I’m able to lead and influence the safety practices of every team member. The BELL leadership team prioritizes safety and incorporates our safety culture into every department’s daily routines. As my team continues to grow, we’re consistently strengthening our practices and ensuring our team members are educated on new and evolving safety protocols.

What do you think BELL's clients and future clients should know about the value or perspective you bring to the company?

My priority is to make a positive impact on BELL’s leaders and team members. Occupational safety directly connects to our mission statement of “Building Better…One Relationship at a Time.” I continuously communicate to my team that our mission impacts everyone we encounter– our owners, partners, team members, etc. My purpose at BELL is to successfully build relationships and keep people safe, one person at a time, and I believe that my story helps me achieve that mission.