At Saltchuk, essential employees across our family of companies are facing challenging circumstances to keep the supply chain running smoothly for our communities. We believe that now, more than ever, it is important to share their stories, fostering connection as we prepare for the challenges of the future.
  • Wednesday , 22 September 2021

2020 Safety Award nominee Q&A: Zack Midles, TOTE Maritime Alaska

In the second of a nine-part Q&A series, TOTE Maritime Alaska Sr. Operations Analyst Zack Midles answers questions about his life, career, and nomination for this year’s awards.

TOTE Maritime Alaska Senior Operations Analyst Zack Midles’s nomination for a Safety Award came after proving instrumental in helping the company change its hazardous materials policies and implementing new processes designed to reduce the risk of a catastrophic accident related to hazardous materials. Midles created the Hazardous Material Corrective Action Report for customers who have committed a hazardous violation. It’s intended to help make our hazardous customers better partners.

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

I grew up in Olympia, Washington. I received my Bachelor of Art’s degree from the University of Washington in Seattle and continued there to receive my Master’s Degree. I’m married to my best friend and have four little children. We love to travel the United States and Europe and are very active in our church.

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

I have worked in retail and logistics my entire career. I believe logistics to be the backbone of our economy, so I have always had a passion for it. I am currently a Sr. Operations Analyst overseeing the cargo management, hazardous, and vehicle departments at the TOTE terminal in Tacoma, Washington.

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

I believe I was nominated because I work with a phenomenal team in Washington and Alaska. We take our hazardous responsibilities very seriously due to the potential impacts of something going wrong. Any hazardous load we review, we act as if we will be sleeping next to that trailer for three days at sea because that’s exactly what our vessel crew does. We either follow all the rules and regulations, or it doesn’t go on our ships. While I sincerely appreciate the nomination, there are several in the cargo management teams who deserve this nomination equally as much.

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

My father worked for a lumber company in Shelton for many years as a Safety Manager. He told me stories growing up about accidents, some fatal. Knowing that some people go to work and don’t get to come home the same way wasn’t acceptable. There are more dangerous jobs than others, but it’s important everyone follows protocol for their safety and the safety of those around them. Your position as an employee is always replaceable; your position as a family member is irreplaceable.

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

The first couple of years I worked at TOTE, I worked in ship operations. The ships usually sail shortly after midnight. My favorite thing to do after every ship operation, no matter how busy the night was, was go outside the building I worked in and watch the ships go by in the middle of the night as they set sail. The calmness, port lights in the background, and Foss tugs pulling them right in front of me was something I always enjoyed. Watching them head out of the Port of Tacoma, knowing they were going north to provide things 730,000-plus people in Alaska need to live, was very gratifying.

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?

At a previous employer, we had a trucker pull into our Tacoma yard not feeling well. His dispatcher in Arizona called me and asked me to go check on him immediately. I went out there to find him struggling to breathe in his truck. We called 9-1-1, and three hours later, he had triple bypass surgery. The driver had a load that had an appointment time that now was going to be late. At the time of this happening, the customer service representative was concerned about it missing delivery and became slightly disgruntled. After the driver was taken away by ambulance, I talked to the CSR about the importance of the individual, not the load. I reminded her that safety is not just a word but a culture. Putting people first over a load is part of that culture which she completely agreed to going forward.

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?

Think of a situation happening as if you owned the company: would you want it reported?  If something happening at a company needs attention, and you’re worried about retaliation, use the Saltchuk phone resource that allows you to remain anonymous.


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!

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