Meet a Woman of Asphalt: R.K. Hall’s Mindy King
BY Sandy Lender
Mindy King is the occupational health and safety specialist for R.K. Hall, a Summit Materials Company, in Paris, Texas. She joined the construction industry in 2004 with the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) as an inspector but an incident in the field two years later awakened in her a desire to focus on safety. When she moved to R.K. Hall in October 2007, she took a slate of safety-related courses to pursue a safety and health career that sees her serving and protecting her colleagues and co-workers every day. We’re honored to share King’s story in our Women of Asphalt series.
AsphaltPro: What did you find interesting or fulfilling about the position of inspector with AHTD?
Mindy King: There is a lot that goes in to building roadways. More than I ever personally imagined. It’s not just a labor industry, like most would think, but one where you really must use your mind. It is a pretty rewarding career when you think of it, when you work on a project from beginning to end and you know that your work is meaningful. Not all people can appreciate that statement but the work we do on the roadways benefits every traveler. We not only strive for our roadways to drive smooth and look nice, but we strive to make them as safe as possible.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers what your job as an inspector entailed?
Mindy King: As a state employee, I inspected the work being done by the contractors, making sure they followed the Arkansas Standard Specifications for all the work and material they were using. Every step of a job must be followed to that spec and it was our job to make sure it was.
AsphaltPro: Would you be willing to share with readers the incident that took place in 2006 that led to your safety journey? Would you share how that accident sparked an interest in health and safety, rather than frightening you from the industry?
Mindy King: Sure, it was May 9, 2006, before noon. I was inspecting the subgrade where the contractor was putting out hydrated lime to dry out the soil. The process is to put out lime and water and till it into the soil to dry it out.
As this process was going on, I was asked by the contract superintendent to come check out a culvert for a driveway they were also working on. We crossed over the subgrade to get to the culvert. About halfway across, something happened, and I felt my legs and feet get extremely hot. It was at that moment I looked down and I had white powder all over me from the waist down.
The lime had a major reaction and blew up on me. It went up my pants leg and down my boots. With help I was immediately able to get to the pickup where they flushed my legs with water, but the damage had already been done. I was taken to the local hospital and then transferred to a burn center. I had first-, second- and third-degree chemical burns to my left leg from ankle to knee and on my right ankle. The following year I received a deep tissue skin graft on my left ankle. It took a bit, but I have healed completely, and this all sparked my drive toward working in safety. I didn’t want anyone else to go through anything like this.
AsphaltPro: What part of your education relates best to the safety & health career track you’re on? (And what courses would you recommend to women who want to join a company as a health & safety officer?)
Mindy King: I do not have a degree in safety, but I have taken a few certifications over the last 20 years. Method 9, Breath Alcohol Tech, First-Aid CPR Trainer, Smith System Trainer, Urine Drug Screen Collector, OSHA 10/30 Hour, Flagger Trainer, Traffic Control Supervisor, Advanced Safety Supervision for Motor Fleets, Safety Certified Transportation Project Professional, Certified Safety Manager, USDOT Motor Carrier Safety Compliance are all certifications and classes that I have personally taken and I’m sure there are more that I have failed to mention.
If someone has the opportunity to take any type of safety course or seminar, I would highly recommend they take it. Even if the course doesn’t relate to the safety field you are interested in, I’m sure you will find it beneficial and relate it to something in your line of work. Also, I recommend doing what you can in person instead of online. It is a great place to network and learn from other safety managers. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions!
AsphaltPro: You mentioned the OSHA 500/501 course that made it possible for you to teach OSHA courses to others. Could you share with the readers the track you took to becoming a safety educator and/or the desire you had to be a safety educator?
Mindy King: When I first started in safety, I took an OSHA 10-hour course, then an OSHA 30-hour course, and then I went on and took OSHA 500/501 courses. Even though I was able to certify some of our workers, I personally gained more knowledge from these courses myself. I do not certify for OSHA anymore, but I do a lot of our in-house training for other certifications like flagger training and Smith System.
Safety training is rewarding. The primary reward is that the individual you just trained took your training and applied it to their current situation. Because of that, they were able to go home safe, just like they came to work that morning. That should be everyone’s main goal: to make it home safely to their loved ones.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers what your job as an occupational health and safety specialist for R.K. Hall requires of you? What are some of your daily responsibilities?
Mindy King: Here at R.K.Hall, like at a lot of places, we all wear many hats. For safety, I perform safety meetings, new hire orientations, new hire drug screens, random/post accident drug screens and breath alcohol test, plant inspections, 5S inspections, air permit requirements, water permit requirements, provide PPE and safety equipment, specialty training (Smith System, flagger training, etc.), insurance/accident claims, attend DR visits with any injured worker, Samsara driver coaching, monitor/repair Samsara equipment, review CSA scores, and submit/review “Think” sheets and “See Say Do Something” reports, just to name a few.
AsphaltPro: What about your job with R.K. Hall is “most cool” to you?
Mindy King: To be a part of something that literally affects everyone! At some point in time, everyone is on the roadway. Knowing that I had a hand in the development of those roadways that everyone uses is cool in my opinion. Oh, and we get to drive on it before anyone else does!
AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position as an occupational health and safety specialist? And how would you encourage other women entering the industry to hone a similar skill to be any kind of safety officer they want to become?
Mindy King: Knowing the value of people and caring for them. Because I care, I put myself out there a lot to make sure we are doing all we can do for our workers. My door is always open to listen to concerns or problems. I’ve made myself approachable so workers feel comfortable coming to me with those concerns and problems when they feel like they can’t talk to their supervisor. I may not always have an immediate solution, but we will work on it and my office is always a judgement-free zone.
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female in the industry, had to overcome in the past 20 years, and how DID you overcome that obstacle? How do you think other women in the industry can incorporate that skill or habit into their workdays?
Mindy King: I recall one incident that happened early on for me. It was when I was inspecting, and my senior inspector went behind me and placed doubt with my instruction to the contractor. It was something new to me but when the contractor asked, I went to my Arkansas Spec book and found the answer. My senior inspector wasn’t aware of all that. When I found out he had placed doubt in what I had instructed, I approached him and questioned why he had done so. I explained to him how hard I had worked to gain the respect of the contractors, and as a young female, that looked even younger, his doubt in me had just made [my job] even harder. I asked him to please approach me about any future situations if he had doubts in what I had said vs. telling the contractor that I didn’t know what I was talking about. By the way, my instructions were right. Sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself.
That is the only issue I recall ever facing. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with the crews I have worked with. They have all given me the utmost respect and have been very willing to teach me things and learn from me, too.
AsphaltPro: Let’s talk about teamwork. What is an example of a project or safe practice you were able to help your company implement successfully?
Mindy King: Oh, I’m all about some teamwork! We use Samsara equipment in our vehicles to score our drivers’ driving behaviors. So, we started a Samsara bracket challenge for our drivers. We put them in teams of two and they competed against each other until we had a final winner. Similar to a sports bracket. After each leg of the bracket, the winners received rewards. We teamed them up so they could work together and encourage each other to be safer drivers. We started it in small groups then we took those winners up to the next level and competed in a regional group for a tri-state winner.
AsphaltPro: Let’s talk about perceptions. What do you think is an incorrect perception that we, as an industry, can re-educate young people about to encourage more women to consider a career in the asphalt business?
Mindy King: This biggest incorrect perception is that this is a man’s job. We need to advertise these jobs more. A lot of women don’t even know what jobs exist in the asphalt industry. I know when someone suggested I go to work for AHTD, my very first comment was: “I’m not going to go pick up dead animals on the road.” Then they laughed at me and explained the engineering side of it. I had no clue it existed.
Same with safety. There are so many jobs within a job that there is something to attract everyone. If you like working outside, there is a job for you. If you are an inside person and want to work at a desk, well guess what? There is a job for you as well. Within the asphalt business, there are so many directions you can go. We have plant operators, equipment operators, payroll clerks, DOT compliance administrators, paving crews, flaggers, truck drivers, QC people, accounts payable, HR and much much more. That’s why I didn’t hesitate with this interview. It’s programs like this that help get the word out that there are jobs in this industry for everyone, even women.
AsphaltPro: What is the most rewarding aspect for you of being in the asphalt industry?
Mindy King: Working with such a diverse group of people and helping keep them safe.
AsphaltPro: Will you tell us about a person who served as a mentor for you? How did they encourage you?
Mindy King: I have two professional mentors that really stand out. William “Bill” Ryan and Chad Stone. Both of these men gave me a chance. They never hesitated about working with me and teaching me.
William Ryan taught me so much about highway construction. Even when someone told me to watch out for him, he won’t teach you anything or let you do anything. That never was the case. He took me under his wing and taught me so much. Chad Stone has taught me more than I can even say about safety. He believes in me sometimes more than I do myself. I’ve been very fortunate to have had both these men as mentors.
My oldest sister Twyla Nichols is a personal mentor. Twyla has been my second mother (she will not like that comment); she is 12 years older than me. God blessed us with a fantastic mother, but she didn’t drive, so Twyla took lead on a lot of things. Twyla was the one who always called me out on any issues with school or grades. She always pushed me to be the best I can be. She helped raise me in a sense.
Twyla has spent her entire work career working in the Arkansas Public School system as first a teacher and now an assistant principal. She taught me the value of being a hard worker and giving your best effort toward your career while being a good mother and wife. She taught me the value of taking care of others and in some cases being the best part of someone else’s day. She taught me to not neglect myself but be willing to make sacrifices for others. Even though I am nowhere as good as her, I am partly who I am today because of Twyla. She helped form my character as well as my work ethic, both of which I’m very proud.
AsphaltPro: Is there a piece of advice from these folks that you would share with other women in the industry/other operators?
Mindy King: Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. When you need help ask for it. And one of the biggest ones is don’t ever get too comfortable in your environment, always keep your eyes moving, looking for hazards.
In Mindy King’s role as an occupational safety and health officer, she uses the 5S Housekeeping concept that’s been mentioned in AsphaltPro before. (See the Predictive Maintenance article in the August 2023 issue as an example.) Here she shares in more detail how that practice can serve as a safety mechanism for contractors.
She shared that R.K. Hall’s parent company introduced the 5S Housekeeping idea to them about 10 years ago and her team took it to their truck shops and asphalt plants straight away.
“In both the shops and the plants, we sectioned the areas off and assigned individuals to those specific areas. Each area was then graded using five descriptions for each S.”
A grade of “1” was the lowest and “5” was the highest.
“We started off really low, but I’m proud to say most of our locations are now in the 4-5 range.”
King explained what each of the five “S” steps are. “By using 5s, you sort through your tools, materials or any items on hand, separating the necessary items from the unnecessary items and eventually getting rid of all unnecessary items. The next S is to straighten (or we call it “simplify access”). To simplify access, you are designating locations for all your items, then marking those locations (labels, shadow boards, etc.). The third S is shine or sweep. This step is just what it sounds like, you want to clean and organize your areas that are dirty and disorganized and keep them clean and organized. The fourth S is to standardize. Come up with a documented plan for changes and incorporate it. And the last S is probably one of the hardest of all, to sustain or self-discipline. Once you get it all sorted out and clean and in its place, you have to keep it this way. When you finish a task it’s time to clean up. Put everything back in its place. By doing so, it saves time because you aren’t having to look for it. It also helps with safety because you are removing clutter. You are removing those trip/fall hazards or other serious risks.
“We have discovered it to be very beneficial for us and it also gives a more professional appeal.”