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Get to know the Utility Arborist Association’s Mark Kimbrough. Not only is he Vice President, Safety & Training at The Townsend Corporation, Kimbrough also serves as co-chair on the UAA Safety Committee.

Based on your family history, you can say the utility arborist industry is in your blood.

I’ve been in the industry all of my life. My dad was a ground person for the Townsend Corporation in 1962 – the year I was born – and came up through the ranks to executive leadership in the 1970s. He retired in 1994 as executive vice-president following 38 years, and then continued to support the corporation for another ten years as a consulting trainer. I knew the founders of the company well. They have even been to our house for dinner when dad was still active.

 

Back in the 1970s, you didn’t have to be 18 to work in the industry. Initially, my dad helped me find some private work, but when I got my driver’s license, he put me on a spray crew in northern Michigan and I traveled during the summers. That’s when I started following in my dad’s footsteps.

 

I joined Townsend in a leadership capacity in 1998. As I began to focus more on safety initiatives in the industry, the late Will Nutter extended a personal invitation to join the UAA Safety Committee and here I am. I respected Will. He is one person I mentor my career path after.

There was one event that happened while you were working for Townsend early on that changed your perspective about safety.

In 1998, we had an employee fatality and I was asked to investigate. I remember walking into the funeral home. I looked at the casket and saw two kids with a mom who was pregnant and three balloons with the words, “We’ll miss you, Daddy.” That dad and husband was 33 years old. Back then, the company’s OSHA recordable rate was double digits. That was the day I said we needed to drastically change what we were doing in our company and industry. I put together a presentation titled, “We’ll miss you, Daddy,” and started presenting it around our company, even though I was not directly involved in safety at the time. Townsend then directed me to be 100%-focused on safety in 2010.

As we mark National Safety Month in June, what are the safety initiatives offered by the UAA that benefit members?

One of the best the UAA offers members is the Safety Summits. These events give us the opportunity to involve field personnel. We make sure the majority of the personnel attending are field crews who share their ideas and help them take ownership of best practices. On the heels of that are the Newsline, PSAs, webinars, and quizzes – all outstanding best practices documents from the UAA.

 

We need to continually work with other industry associations. In addition to being co-chair of the UAA Safety Committee, I also chair the ISA Collaboration Committee to better the safety culture. Hostile work environments are an ever-growing area of concern in our industry. Seems like every year we have more and more situations of physical altercations. Look to the UAA Fact Sheets for guidance on that topic and more.

How have UAA Safety Summits evolved in recent years?

We try to target 100 people to attend and it’s a perfect size audience. The safety summit is designed for people to break into five workgroups. More than 20 professionals in each group are difficult to manage. Because of Covid, we shifted from the previous hotel setting to outdoor summits, which is where people are working every day. They feel at home and more engaged outdoors. That’s been a big advancement for these events.

 

UAA Safety Summits didn’t exist until Will Nutter came up with this concept. We shoot for three to four summits annually. This year, there are only two because of Trees & Utilities and the ROW Symposium happening this fall.

Do you need more volunteers to serve on the Safety Committee and donate their time?

Yes. Enhance your involvement in safety and your company. There are so many avenues out there. Do it for the right reason to spread the safety culture. I’m glad that Will gave me the nod to join the safety committee. That was a springboard to get me more involved in the UAA. I invited someone last week and I think they will be joining soon.

 

Engage in the UAA or other aspects of our industry. We have to forward utility arboriculture as a skilled industry versus tree trimmers.

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