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Craig Coughlin’s observation on container safety garnered him a 2018 Safety Award nomination.

By Hilary Reeves

Craig Coughlin grew up working on cars in Springfield Virginia, attended a vocational high school and later trained as a diesel mechanic at a top-rated college in Nashville. Coughlin’s vast experience and commitment to working safely in his position as Lead Refrigeration Technician at Tropical Shipping garnered him a 2018 Safety Award nomination.

“We’ve seen huge growth in the 34 years I’ve worked at Tropical,” he said. “Sometimes growth can lead to shortcuts, but I’m not the only one who works down on the load line in the port, you know? It’s about looking out for the people around you, not just yourself.”

Coughlin’s vocational training led to work as a marine mechanic and a move to Fort Lauderdale to work on the steady flow of yachts sailing in and out of Floridian waters. He moved on to servicing over-the-road trucks, joining Tropical in 1985 when a friend became a manager at Tropical. His current position, in a nutshell, requires him and his team to turn over refrigerated containers – or reefers – so they’re ready to be loaded for the next customer.

“When containers are empty, we wash the inside of the container, pre-trip each unit, and make sure they are ready for our customer,” he said. “Once loaded, we monitor and make sure the temperature is set correctly and is running correctly before loading on the vessel.”

The containers, he continued, could be loaded with anything from plants to ice cream.

Craig checks a panel at a shipyard.
Craig Coughlin joined Tropical Shipping 34 years ago.

A safer Tropical port

Coughlin’s award nomination comes as the result of some strategic stacking.

“The way we were operating in the port,” he said, “loaded reefers were staged two high and two deep, sometimes three deep in rows. We would have to walk in between the containers to monitor while in the port.”

One day last year, Coughlin said, an 80,000-pound container was being brought into the line and wasn’t lifted high enough. The container made contact with the container below, sliding it into the safety zone, hitting the one in front of it.

“Had one of us been working in that area, it would have been fatal,” he said.

Coughlin recognized the flaw in safety and spoke up.

“We’ve changed the process now to only stacking units one deep. The strads come to a complete stop and blow their horns before entering the load line. This process keeps workers from walking in unsafe areas.”

Coughlin said getting home safely to his wife of 28 years and his four children is his priority now. His children – all between the ages of 20 and 25 – have different interests.

“My oldest son is an electrician, my second son is seeking a career in firefighting, my third son is at the University of Florida pursuing a career in soil science, and my daughter is at Florida Gulf Coast University aiming for a career in Physical Therapy.”

Coughlin’s father-in-law retired from Tropical 25 years ago after working 23 years, and his brother-in-law is currently working for the company in stevedoring.

“I don’t see myself retiring from Tropical, at least not until my kids get out of college,” he said. “We recently had a co-worker retire with 42 years, so I have a ways to go.”

Like many, Coughlin is most proud of his family.

“I don’t think I have any regrets, he said. I’m fortunate that I’ve made all the right turns. Everything’s worked out so far.”

Tropical Lead Refrigeration Technician Craig Coughlin is one of 10 nominees for the 2018 Saltchuk Safety Awards, awarded annually to an individual responsible for an innovative idea that improves safety behaviors and to an individual who displays distinguished service with regard to safety.

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.