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TMAK Rate Specialist Nicole Weite successfully intervened on not one, but two Near Miss falls.

By Hilary Reeves

Nicole Weite is developing quite a reputation as a stickler for safety. In September of 2018, the TOTE Maritime Alaska rate specialist reported a Near Miss: a contractor working at the company’s Federal Way headquarters was using a stepladder to gain access to the drop ceiling and HVAC systems in a way Weite reported could have easily resulted in a fall.

“I watched him climb to the second-to-last step, then swing one of his legs around to the other side of the ladder so he was straddling the top of the ladder,” she wrote in her original report. “He also had his cell phone halfway out of his left back pocket and was regularly adjusting it back into his pocket as it was almost falling out. When he swung his leg back over the ladder to climb back down, I did not feel it was a safe practice to try balancing on one leg while swinging his leg over like that.  He did not have three points of contact on the ladder at any point, except to climb.”

Weite said she let the contractor know she was concerned for his safety and asked him to not operate the ladder in ways not intended.

“He agreed to my request,” she said, “but a short time later, the same contractor was on the ladder again in an unsafe manner. I couldn’t find one of our safety officers on-site at the time, so I asked the contractor to climb down from the ladder and to stop work.”

Weite’s reporting set off a chain of corrective action, earning accolades from TOTE’s safety officer and a 2018 Safety Award nomination.

“Safety, to me, is inclusive to everyone,” she said. “It’s a value I hold both in and out of the office. The safety culture here at TOTE encourages and celebrates action and improvements in safety. The biggest reward for me in this experience was the feedback from the contractor’s Director of Safety thanking me for my ‘courage to intervene.’”

Debbie holds Weite's baby nephew at a carnival.
In honor of Weite’s mother, Debbie, who recently passed. She is pictured here with Weite’s nephew, Bryan.

Carnival life

Weite and her twin sister were born and raised in a traveling carnival, trekking across Washington State with their single mother.

“My mom was a game jockey from the age of 15 until she retired,” Weite said. “She operated a carnival game called ‘Punk Rack.’ I was taught at a very young age to count money, so my first job was to ‘break change’ and re-fill prizes for the carnival game operators when I was two or three years old. When my sister and I were tall enough, we got our own carnival games to operate – the Goldfish Bowls and the Dime Toss. I come from humble beginnings, but I developed a strong work ethic as well as a deep appreciation for how far I’ve come in life despite it.”

Weite and her twin are “mirrors” – physical opposites – “but the one thing that we had most in common is that we are artistic,” she continued. “As a child and teen, I had a strong passion for comic book art and my ideal career was to own and operate a comic book store.”

Weite describes herself as a “big kid.”

“I don’t grow up, I level up,” she laughed. “I have a classic video game collection at home and I love to go play at the arcade. I also enjoy board games, card games, and other activities that bring out my competitive nature. My manager once coined the nickname “Scrappy” for me, and I think it suits my grit and determination.”

A reputation for safety

Weite started with TOTE Maritime Alaska in early 2015 as a temp employee in credit and collections.

“I knew right away that I wanted to stay with this company, so I was excited and ‘jumped on it’ when a position opened up for documentation and rates,” she said. “I’ve never been with a company, or on a team, as unified and supportive as the one I’m on now. We come to work every day and share smiles, positive attitudes, and laughter.”

One of Weite’s favorite memories is the trip she took with Glemious Jackson Chatters, fellow Safety Award nominee Teddy Pease, and Bill King to Louisiana for a military project move.

“We had some flights delayed, but Teddy made it to the hotel before the rest of us. He offered to cook for us. I’ll never forget that herbed butter steak in the hotel parking lot under the light of a headlamp,” she laughed.

If she could change one thing about her past, Weite said she wishes she could have earned her degree.

“If I could change one thing, it would be to scrimp and save and hold back other life goals, or avoid setbacks long enough to have gone to school for a degree,” she said. “I find that to be the one thing that holds me back from being able to demonstrate my full potential. I’ve been fortunate and had employers grade me on my accomplishments and merits, so I’m thankful and proud that I’ve seen success in positions before that were beyond my education level.”

As far as the future, she said, she hopes to continue to grow with TOTE.

“The biggest sense of accomplishment that I get is when I can contribute to our team and company becoming more efficient and confident in what we do,” she said.

So perhaps it’s no surprise to anyone that when another visiting contractor was again using a ladder unsafely a few months ago, Weite again intervened.

“We actually witnessed another contractor employee standing on the top cap of a ladder in May,” she said. “And of course I talked to him too…I bet they know me by reputation now.”

TOTE Maritime Alaska Rate Specialist Nicole Weite 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.