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In the fourth of a nine-part Q&A series, TOTE PR Risk Management Generalist Erika Vega answers questions about her life, career, and nomination for this year’s awards.

In 2019, TOTE received its 45001 ISO certification for safety. Erika Vega led the ISO team again in 2020 and completed the audit without any nonconformities, by no means an easy feat. Vega also played a critical role in the Covid-19 Pandemic response plan when TOTE wasn’t sure how it would operate in its office and terminal environments.

Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? 

I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and moved to Jacksonville (Florida) when I was 11. I graduated from the University of North Florida with a degree in Transportation and Logistics.

Tell us about your career, your current position, and what led you to it. 

Graduating with a Transportation and Logistics degree is what led me to TOTE and a new industry altogether. Before TOTE, I worked for a health insurance company for 11 years. I have been with TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico for eight years and have had multiple roles within the company: Customer Service Specialist, Business Process Analyst, and Risk Management Generalist.

In your own words, why were you nominated for a safety award? 

I believe I was nominated for the safety award because of my role in creating new business continuity procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. TOTE PR was tasked to develop a corporate response, and my role (with the guidance of the Safety Director) was to update old procedures and create new ones specific to the COVID-19 situation.

Is there something in your life that drove your commitment to safety? How did you end up so focused on it? 

My commitment to safety became a focal point when I joined the Risk Management team in 2014. As the ISO Program Coordinator, I have to monitor all health and safety initiatives in place to maintain the ISO45001 certification. I am also constantly looking at ways to make the work environment safer and promote our safety culture.

What was your first impression of TOTE Maritime? Tell us your favorite story about your time with the company.

My first impression of TOTE was very positive; right away, I could sense the family-like atmosphere. One of my favorite times was when the terminal operating system in Jacksonville was put in place. After being on the project team for months, it was great to see the new gate “go live” and see the labor staff be removed from the lanes and in a safe building.

Vega poses on the Isla Bella in a green reflective vest and hard hat.

Think about a time in your career when you felt like what you were doing was somehow less than completely safe. What did you learn from that experience?

I always thought I was doing everything “safely” until I started working in Risk Management and Safety. Working in my current role has really fine-tuned my safety awareness, and I can better identify safety hazards and unsafe behaviors.

Speaking up for safety can be difficult for some people. What advice would you give to someone within our family of companies who’s convinced their feedback won’t matter – or worse, that they’ll somehow be punished for taking action?

My advice would be for individuals to change their perspectives about speaking up. I believe that it is a privilege to openly speak up without retaliation. I also believe we must look out for each other and ensure we are working in the safest environment possible each and every day.

Jozette Montalvo, Vice President of Human Resources for Hawaii Petroleum, is the 2020 winner of the Mike Garvey Award for Distinguished Service in Safety. Read her story here!

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.