The warning signs shouldn’t have been missed. When they’re read aloud, heads nod almost in unison; with 20/20 hindsight, the warning signs can’t be missed.
It’s a bullet-pointed study in complacency:
- An unfamiliar machine, aged and worn
- Haphazard repairs made on the fly
- Safety mechanisms removed or disengaged
- 10 minutes until quitting time, two days before Christmas
Only in the reveal does Shane Hopson’s point truly hit home.
“They’re floored when I tell them it was my dad,” says the plant manager at North Carolina's Reidsville Quarry. “Then I explain the consequences and how his death affected our family. He wasn’t here, but life had to go on.”
Carl Lee Hopson’s wife packed up her younger children and left West Virginia after her husband of 21 years died in a coal mine at the age of 39.
Shane Hopson speaks before a crowd of 500 at the Southeast Mine Safety and Health Conference in Birmingham, Ala.
A high school senior at the time, Shane Hopson stayed behind, sleeping on a mattress laid over a bare floor until he could finish school and move out of the family’s all-but-empty home.
“I did the best I could,” he says. “I had a scholarship to go to college, but I had to give it back because my mom needed help paying the bills. I went to work. I did the best I could.”
Since telling his family’s story to a crowd of 500 at the Southeast Mine Safety and Health Conference in Birmingham, Alabama, Hopson has been asked to repeat the presentation, “Complacency and its Consequences,” by private operations and industry organizations from across the United States.
Kirk Grissett, an HR/safety manager in the Mid-Atlantic Division’s Piedmont District, also presented at the conference along with Kevin Barnes, his Carolina South District counterpart.
Grissett was in the audience as Hopson spoke and watched as hundreds in attendance rose to their feet in applause at the conclusion.
“You would have thought Shane was a rock star,” Grissett says. “He made the topic personal for everybody in the room by telling his story. When he got to the end and we realized that this fatality was his father … it was just powerful.”
A self-proclaimed “hillbilly from West Virginia,” Hopson has been with Martin Marietta for 14 years and says his presentation style is somewhat conversational; his method of connecting with the audience has been refined as his presentation evolved from a 10-minute talk at a Carolina Accident Reduction Team (CART) meeting.
At 37, Hopson is less than two years away from outliving his father. He says his story should serve as a reminder to employees about the importance of following all safety measures all of the time.
“There were so many ‘What if’ moments," he says. "What if the machine had been examined before it was put into service? What if the panic bar switch hadn’t been removed? What if they had blocked up the boom? Each one of those things led to his death and each one resulted from complacency.”
In the spring, Hopson plans to give his presentation again at a health and safety workshop for the Georgia Construction Aggregate Association. His basic message, he says, is one that needs to be spread.
“My father has eight grandchildren that he never got to meet,” he says. “This is my family’s story, but I want people to know that it doesn’t have to be theirs.”