Uncategorized Archives - Southern Site

How Do You Create a Culture of Safety? Toby Ellis Shares 3 Secrets.

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We all want an effective safety program and low incident reports, but the real question is—how do we get there? Buzzwords are neat, and research-based theories may look good on a website. But what are the keys to building an authentic safety culture that truly impacts your organization?


Construction veteran Toby Ellis took time away from his role in business development to formalize the safety program at Southern Site, but the catalyst for doing so didn’t spring out of thin air. Southern Site had just formed when one of their guys had an accident that could have had a severe outcome. “He’s okay,” Toby says with hesitation in his voice, “but it could have been so much worse.”

It wasn’t in his job description, but Ellis came to Ryan (Clinard) and said, “Look, the only thing we’re doing consistently right now is being inconsistent.” Right then he decided to take on the full responsibility of organizing their Safety Program.

By the time OSHA got back to Southern Site to address the incident in question, Ellis had already put every single person at Southern Site through the pilot that would become their current safety program. Two years later, Toby’s just getting started on building out the vision he has for a dynamic, robust safety program.

1: Start ‘Em Young

Toby’s intuitive genius lies in focusing on young people with no construction experience. He teaches them that safety is simply a part of how Southern Site performs the work they do. 

People are encouraged to be completely transparent—to speak up if they see anything unsafe, no matter who or what it is. Ellis tells them directly, “I don’t care if the foreman’s doing it! If you see something, you stop ‘em, and nobody’s gonna get onto you about that!” When they do, they’re not reprimanded but rewarded.

“I have young people telling the seasoned guys, “we don’t do it like that.” They won’t do something the wrong way, and they hold the team accountable.” 

2: Safety IS The Story

Toby’s latest safety class, Safety 101, covers hazards, control points, and how to keep danger down to a bare minimum. Unlike separate safety narratives, he weaves the information into the history and the ‘why’ behind Southern Site. 

“Every quarter, I fill this class with new hires. Everyone gets roped into my class, which starts them off on the right foot of having a pretty good understanding of who we are, what we are, and why we have the policies we do. I teach them that safety is not a separate part of our company.”

3: One-on-One Attention

 Toby’s two sons are a testament to his passion for young people and construction, having followed their dad’s footsteps into the trades. It’s evident that he also takes a fatherly approach to teaching safety, one person at a time. Whether in the field or one of the Southern Site offices, Toby is known for sharing his genuine concern for individuals in what Nikki DeLuca affectionately calls “The Toby daddy talk.” 

“I pull kids aside and explain to them why I care about them, why I want them to do this. This is not just a job, it’s a career. I explain how it affects their family and our Southern Site family.” 

“You can laugh,” he says lightheartedly, “but these guys remember the stuff we talk about. I know because they find me later and say ‘what you said, it really stuck with me.’”

Ellis’ Background

Ellis has done just about everything there is to do within the world of construction, from managing big teams for Rogers Group, to owning his own asphalt and paving business, to working for the City of Gallatin as the Assistant Director of Public Works. He’s truly a father when it comes to construction, and his safety leadership at Southern Site is a gift that will affect the team for decades to come. 

For more on how our safety program is developing, check out our safety page at https://southernsitecontractors.com/safety/!

A Day In The Life of An Operator With Ryan Voiles

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Operators are some of the heroes in the civil construction industry—rising early and staying late to do a job that is foundational to building our communities. So what makes the job worthwhile? More importantly, could it be the right career for you?

Finish Operator Ryan Voiles takes a few moments out of his day to answer some questions about a lifetime of work that’s been good to him. Read on to find out if you might land a career sitting in the operator’s seat.

Ryan’s Background.

Ryan’s been “tinkering with equipment” since his childhood spent growing up on a farm. “My uncle always had a backhoe and a dozer on his property, and he’d kindly let me learn.” Over the years, Ryan’s mastered just about every piece of iron in the industry.

What happens on a typical day?

“I live in East Tennessee and work near Gallatin,” he explains. Ryan makes the 2.5-hour trip from home to the job site at the beginning of the week, staying with his crew in a nearby hotel.

The 2.5-hour drive isn’t much compared to what jobs for previous companies have required—traveling for 3-4 months at a time and burning the midnight oil. At Southern Site, he comes in on Monday, goes home on Friday. “Sometimes we work through the weekends, but not often.”

On Monday, the crew shows up at the job site at 6:30 AM where they start by discussing what they plan to accomplish for the day. 

“Do you do exercises together?” I ask him, “leg lifts?” referencing the safety training videos we’ve all seen.

“Do they help?” he deadpans, and we both laugh.

After that, the crew makes sure everything is fueled up—and they get started! 

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, I’m on the dozer,” Ryan says, “but if there’s a shortage of experienced hands, I will jump in to help.” 

Midday, everyone stops working to eat lunch. “I usually pack my lunch. I like to sit outside, feel the breeze.”

Lunchtime is also an opportunity for someone to grab seat time in a dozer or an excavator—but only if someone (like Ryan) is willing to show them how to operate the equipment and keep them safe. 

“Not everyone has that mentality—that love for teaching, but that’s what’s great about this company, you’re encouraged to teach.”

After lunch, it’s back on the job until the team reaches a stopping place for the day. 

When Ryan wraps up, he often stays to give one of the new guys additional lessons on the dozer. “Winding-down time, evening-time, that’s the perfect time of day to give someone the chance to practice.”

Ryan gives directions, then steps off to the side with the dozer’s cab door open, so the operator-in-training can hear when Ryan calls out instructions. 

Why do you like operating heavy equipment?

Ryan’s favorite aspect of operating is watching something undergo a dramatic transformation on account of his hard work. 

“It’s as if you’re an artist, but instead of a pencil and a piece of paper, you visualize it and draw it out with your machine.”

“Do you like doing that—using the earth as your canvas?” I ask.

“It’s awesome,” Ryan tells me, “You actually get to create slopes or ponds out of raw earth—carving it out just like on a piece of wood.”

“What’s one of the most enjoyable things you’ve created lately?” I ask, and Ryan thinks for a minute. 

“You know, now that I’m toward the latter half of my career, I almost exclusively do finish work, so it’s not often I get to see a job go from scratch to the final product. But I did a Walgreens awhile ago, where I got to work on the entire thing from roughing out to laying the blacktop. Seeing it come off the blueprints into reality was extremely satisfying.”

What is a difficult job you’ve worked on?

Recalling a difficult job with another company, he tells me about the precarious conditions,

“We worked for two years on a job where the dam was leaking under the road. We had to work on 6-700-foot high slopes—blasting, digging it out, then blasting again. It was exhausting and nerve-racking.”

It was also difficult for him to be away from his family for long periods, especially when his kids were little. 

“I missed my third one being born because I was in El Paso and couldn’t get home. I was torn all to pieces. I have to hand it to my wife, taking care of the kids, cooking, plus working. I never realized how much work it was [raising kids].”

Why Southern Site?

Ryan’s a huge advocate for teaching anyone who wants to learn how to operate equipment. “A lot of companies have the mindset ‘we’ve got our operators’—even if they’re older. They’re not thinking about the future.”

“That’s what makes Southern Site different,” and that’s one of the things Ryan enjoys about Southern Site. “Teaching the young people? I love it. That’s where it’s at.”

Another perk? “Being home every weekend,” Ryan says. “I’m only 2.5 hours away. So I’m there for my family when they need me.”

Learn more.

Are you curious to learn more about being an operator? It’s a job where no two days are ever the same, and you’ll use the earth as your canvas while you hone your craft. It won’t be without some sacrifice, but people all over the world depend on the work you and other operators will do.

If you want to learn more about the Dirt World, read our story at https://southernsitecontractors.com/who-we-are/!

We’re one place that will meet your hunger with opportunity. 

Vendor Spotlight: Landon Houston of Southern Pipe and Supply

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“Southern Site must be good at their job because they always have work. I have a lot of respect for them–they pay their bills on time.” — Landon Houston

Anyone in the construction industry knows that behind a successfully completed project are many people from various outfits.  Of course, you have the general contractors and the subcontractors, but that’s just scratching the surface. Within each team, it’s the individuals that make the work happen every single day. 

At Southern Site, we’re well aware that the outcome of a great project is the result of many hands. Or, in some cases, many minds, experiences, and sets of knowledge.

That’s why we want to draw attention to some of our great suppliers. Without these connections, we’d be up a creek. 

One such supplier is Southern Pipe and Supply. With over one hundred locations spread across seven states, it could be easy to get lost in the mix–but that doesn’t happen, thanks to the detailed attention we get from Landon Houston. 

 Landon graduated from the University of Tennessee in ‘06, unsure of what was next.  A friend had gotten into the Heavy Civil industry and introduced Landon to Southern Pipe and Supply’s warehouse. So Landon started out in the industry by pulling parts and fulfilling orders.

Today, Landon is a part of the team running the Water and Sewer Division. As Southern Site’s designated rep at Southern Pipe, Landon makes sure Southern Site has what we need for each job. He connects us with everything pertaining to water, sewer, and storm drain, including electrical supplies. Things like precast, manholes, PVC for water, cast iron casings, curb inlets and drains, electrical supplies, pads, duct banks, and much, much more. 

Landon also makes sure that our big pipe –usually ordered directly from US Pipe–gets to the right job site at the right time. Another benefit of having a dynamic connection with Landon and Southern Pipe is that we collaborate. When our Estimating Manager Matt Baltz is going over preliminary plans for a project, he might spend some time on the phone getting Landon’s take on things.  Nothing is bought or sold; it’s just a part of a real relationship with a great person and a great company.

We’re grateful for the numerous people that make each project possible, especially Landon Houston at Southern Pipe and Supply. Here’s to a future of successful work together!

Women in Construction at Southern Site

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At Southern Site, we love good humans and consider them the reason we’re in businesses.  Some of those good humans we’ve managed to bring on are women. They work hard, bring a unique perspective to the team, and form strong relationships in a historically male-dominated world. 

We wouldn’t be telling it like it is if we didn’t share some of their stories with you. We don’t need a particular reason, but celebrating women throughout the month of March, first with Women in Construction and then with Women’s History Month, gives us a good excuse to show off a couple of our awesome ladies running heavy equipment in the field.

Megan Macioszek, Operator

Heavy construction wasn’t on Megan’s radar until she started working in it almost accidentally. She was in college for mechanical engineering, but when COVID hit, she went back home to work concrete with her stepdad.  It was as much of a surprise to her as anyone to discover she had a passion for construction. “It’s not what I expected to be doing, but now I can’t picture myself doing anything else.” 

As far as working in a field historically dominated by men? Megan says maybe she’s lucky–but she’s never had anything but love from her crew. “I know it might seem a little far-fetched, but it’s not weird. It’s never awkward.  They’re like brothers.”

Savannah Winkles, Mainline Trackhoe Operator

When Savannah overheard people saying, “women can’t do things like that,” it cemented her decision to try a career in construction. “I wanted to show that we are capable of doing anything, whether we are big, small, or even really young.”

Savannah started on a 6’x6’ roller, and when she laid eyes on her first big excavator, she took aim. “It was the biggest thing I’d ever seen in my life, and I wanted to drive it.” Since working for Southern Site, she’s been encouraged to reach for the sky. She’s got her younger siblings’ eyes on her, as well as so many other young people who are just starting. “When I come out here, and my foreman asks me to dig a ditch, that’s my canvass.  I am trying to make this big masterpiece for everyone in the world to see, and I want to get as close to perfection as I possibly can.  I take so much pride in my work.”

Nikki DeLuca, Human Resources and Communications Manager

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention someone who keeps everything together.  Nikki DeLuca‘s many talents are put to use at Southern Site from her position as the HR and Communications Manager.  She is a powerful force in keeping Southern Site’s people happy and healthy. 

Ryan was smart enough to realize what a treasure Nikki was before starting Southern Site, and we’re glad he convinced her to come along for the ride. Nikki is a genuine people person who gets the work done, and we all depend on her to make our team successful.

We love good people, and during Women in Construction week it’s a joy to celebrate the stories of some of our best, who also happen to be women. With leaders like Megan, Savannah, and Nikki on board, the future of construction looks bright. 

Southern Site Contractors Weather Day

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At Southern Site Contractors, we understand how much inclement weather can mess up any construction company’s plans. On a rainy day, everyone in the construction industry knows they might get the call to stay at home. At most companies, that means you don’t get paid for the day. But at Southern Site, our weather day policy ensures that our people still get their regular paycheck (or at least close to it), even if rain keeps them away from the job site.

Rainy Day Program

Our weather day policy is on a crew-by-crew basis because some jobs can work in the rain, while others can’t. In general, weather days are earned based on the profitability of the job site. At the beginning of every month, each foreman is given a worksheet by their project manager that outlines their profitability goals.

If the team reaches 90% of their goal, they all earn one weather day. If they get to 100% of their goal, they receive two weather days, and reaching 110% of that goal gets them three weather days. We also reserve those days during the dry months and then start paying them out in November. At the beginning of May, any unused weather days are paid out to each employee in the form of a lump-sum bonus.

For example, let’s say there’s a crew on a site that only gets 24 hours for the week because they got rained out for two days. Then, when we’re doing payroll, we will grant that entire crew weather days to try to get them as close to 40 hours as possible.

The second people hear that we offer this structure — especially those that have experience with other companies in the construction industry — they nearly universally say they’ve never heard of a construction company offering this type of perk.

We’ve found that the weather day policy helps considerably with both attracting new hires and also retaining our current team members. Once they see those weather day payouts show up in their paychecks, they have concrete proof of how much we truly care about our employees.

The Role of Technology at Southern Site

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At Southern Site Contractors, we have experienced firsthand how much the latest technology can streamline our operations. Our integration of technology starts in the field, where our usage of GPS in our dozers and trackhoes allows us to be more efficient, while also improving our performance.

Previously, we only had GPS in our dozers. We would have the dozers run along the initial cut, while a trackhoe followed it. Now that we have GPS in the trackhoes too, we don’t even need that level of babysitting anymore. When you compare it to the old method of using grade stakes, it’s unbelievable how much time and effort we’re saving these days thanks to the GPS.

GPS also helps make our work more reliable in the field. We’re within two-tenths of an inch, every time, no matter what. For most projects, we can get that down to one-tenth, or even half a tenth. Even if a job has a one-tenth tolerance, we’re going to hit that every time. It’ll be nearly perfect. With GPS, there’s never really a question of whether we’re grading within tolerance anymore.

In addition to GPS, our foremen and supervisors have iPads that they can use to document progress on any given job. They also use those iPads to figure out all sorts of issues on the fly. For example, they can determine what kind of risers we need for a manhole. Within moments, they know the right size of riser to put that manhole stack perfectly on grade, which is a process that used to be much more complicated.

We also recently started increasing our investment in software, and we’re already seeing the benefits of that decision. Previously, we would use Excel spreadsheets for estimating, which required a ton of effort for our estimators. Now, we’ve implemented HCSS HeavyBid, which has significantly streamlined the entire estimating process.

With HeavyBid, we can put every single little thing we need to do a job into our estimate, right down to the nuts and bolts we’ll use. And the accuracy is incredible — we’re able to get within a few dollars of our actual costs with every estimate. It’s getting to the point where we’ll barely have to do takeoffs anymore.

We’re also about to start using another HCSS product — Equipment360, which will track any issues we have with our equipment. With these programs exchanging information with each other, we’ll be able to go straight from the bid all the way through the finished project, accurately documenting every step of the process.

Technology will never replace the expertise and experience of our people in the field, or in the office. However, by intelligently implementing technology in the right ways, we can help our employees be as efficient as possible, in an industry where time truly is money.

The Southern Site Company Culture

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To put it simply, the Southern Site Contractors company culture is one of family. We’re all very passionate people when it comes to what we do for a living. Sometimes, we’ll debate about what we believe is right for any given job, but at the end of the day, we trust that all of our people are going to make the right decisions.

We always have each other’s backs, which sometimes means being flexible enough to drop what you’re doing and go help somebody else out for a day or two. That will occasionally even mean helping out with things that aren’t even part of our typical operations. A great example of this was the recent tornadoes in Tennessee.

When Ryan started Southern Site, he came from Goodall Homes. The Stonebridge neighborhood of Lebanon, Tennessee, is a project Goodall Homes has been working on for over a decade. When the tornadoes came through, they really hit Stonebridge hard. Even though that’s a development we don’t actually work on for Goodall, the very next morning we took equipment off of our jobs and headed up there to help clean up the debris.

That’s a good example of how our people at Southern Site treat everybody. We try to maintain that mutually beneficial family atmosphere, not just with our employees and our customers, but also in our communities. We want our people to treat everyone with compassion and respect, and the ones that don’t usually don’t last very long here. It’s an ‘all hands on deck, do whatever it takes’ mentality.

We’re not afraid to say the things that are on our mind, and fight for what we think is important. Everyone here knows that their opinions are respected and that we will listen to their perspectives, no matter what the issue is. In a way, that results in more opportunities for advancement and growth at Southern Site than you would typically see at other construction companies.

We strongly believe in giving people every chance to learn and to do things right, even if that means failing along the way in the short term. We can make mistakes and come back from them. It’s the repeated errors that you can’t always come back from. Everyone here has the freedom to be successful in their own roles, and that comes with a lot of faith in our people from the top down.

As we look to the future, we have to focus on maintaining our company culture as we continue to grow and expand our business. In that context, hiring the right people is vital. When we bring new people into the company, we need to provide them with the necessary tools to succeed and make sure they understand the processes we like to follow.

We also need to never lose sight of our role in the community. A lot of larger companies lose touch with the communities they serve, but as Southern Site grows, we want to make sure we set up every job site to put our best foot forward for the community.