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Tropical to celebrate maintenance manager’s safety success

Joe Steib’s shops were accident-free in 2013 and 2014

 By Hilary Reeves

Joe Steib isn’t one to rush.

One accident can wipe away everything you’ve worked for in an instant,” said Steib, who manages two of Florida-based Tropical Shipping‘s Maintenance and Repair shops. “Ask yourself, ‘Was I safe today? Or just lucky?'”

Steib is one of six department managers at Tropical with a flawless 2014 safety record. His shops – Auto Maintenance and Miami Maintenance – repair automotive and service equipment of all shapes and sizes for the company’s Port of Palm Beach Operations and Miami LCL warehouse.

“We work with grinders, torches, presses, jacks, and other tools related to the field,” he explained. “Most of the equipment we are responsible for is used on a constant basis. We don’t have spare equipment for everything; we have to react quickly to any issue related to the equipment. Ships need to be loaded on time in order to meet the customer’s needs.”

“(Being accident free) is truly a result of Joe’s leadership and consistent focus on safety,” said Doug Vogt, Tropical’s Director of Maintenance and Equipment. “He has always been ahead of the curve in his shops when it comes to safety initiatives and audits.”Steib sidebar

Steib’s approach to being ahead of the curve is actually a bit old-fashioned.

“There’s no ‘secret recipe’ when it comes to safety,” he continued. “Everyone needs to watch out for themselves, as well as for others, and not be afraid to call out their coworkers. I make it a point to walk the shop on a frequent basis to look, listen, and address. If I see something that potentially could create a safety issue, I take care of it and I let the Miami Maintenance group know as well. We also have a daily shift meeting, or Toolbox Talk, out in the shop. We as a group keep the shop clean and uncluttered, along with having monthly safety topics, and a supportive Safety Department.”

Steib was born in Key West, a true “Conch native,” and lived on the island for a number of years before his parents “decided to move to the frozen tundra of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Though he said he was unfortunate to lose his father in his early years, his mother was the mainstay of his family.

“She showed me, and still shows me, the kindness that people can have in them,” he said.

Growing up, Steib wanted to be a boat designer.

“I used to sit for hours at a time drawing different styles of cabin cruisers,” he laughed.

He joined the Navy right out of high school, but subsequently found a different calling.

“I spent time working in the printing business (in Wisconsin) in the early ’80s as a supervisor overseeing 30 people,” Steib explained. “Then I moved to the maintenance department where I’ve remained ever since. Once the printing company closed down after 15 years, we were faced with either staying in Wisconsin or starting over in what I like to refer to as ‘Paradise,'” – Florida.

Steib sold his house, packed up his family, and never looked back.

“I worked for two other companies in Florida prior to Tropical,” he said. “I actually turned down a position at Tropical four years prior to starting here. But then I started seeing that the company had employees who stayed their entire career and never left, so I decided to join. If I would have accepted it at that time, I would be one of those long-timers by now. When I started, it wasn’t unheard of to see others who had been there for 25, 30 years – quite a few, in fact. People stayed with Tropical, which is what lured me to them.”

Steib started as the lead mechanic in the automotive shop, and through what he describes as the guidance and help of some great mentors, he moved into a management role.

“I always felt that having strong hands-on experience in the field has helped me to this day,” he said.

Steib’s departments maintain approximately 155 pieces of equipment in Palm Beach, a feat accomplished by five mechanics spread over two shifts. In Miami, his team maintains close to 60 pieces of equipment, including equipment at the Caribtrans warehouse. The Miami shop houses two equipment mechanics, one chassis mechanic, one refrigeration mechanic, and one floater, all on one shift.

“Tropical is all about diversity, not only in its people, but in the various equipment we service,” Steib said. “We service generators, pressure washers, large and small forklifts, man-lifts, jockey trucks, road trucks, and golf carts, whether they be electric, gas, propane, or diesel-powered. The challenge here is to become good at all of these things.”

Within the Automotive field at large, Steib said another of his greatest challenges involves keeping abreast of the ever-changing technology.

Joe smiles in a Tropical warehouse, wearing an orange reflective vest.“Computers, body control modules, and electronic control modules are all things that keep changing,” he said. “Diagnostics aren’t done with a screwdriver to the ear; now you hook a scanner up and do cylinder cut-out-tests. On top of that, scanners are constantly changing too. It’s like learning to go from Windows XP to Windows 8 all over again.”

Steib has been married to his wife, Gloria, for 33 years and has two children: Sara, a teacher who is about to give birth to Steib’s first grandchild, and Joshua, an assistant dock manager at a Palm Beach marina.

“Josh shares the same traits as me, in that he has the ability to repair just about anything. Gloria never gets anything new because I fix everything – ever see a washing machine that turns on when you flick a toggle switch?,” he laughed. “I’ve also started woodworking again, and just built a baby bassinet for my coming grandchild. The baby hasn’t even been born yet, and I’m already working on a seahorse rocking horse!”

He said he’s most proud of the fact that he learned his mechanical and electrical skills along the way, not because he had to but because he wanted to.

“I’ve never been one not to try to learn something new. I’m also proud of my team. We work on such a variety of equipment, it’s impossible to be experts on it all and yet we continue to keep everything running.”

Steib and his team will soon be recognized by Tropical’s Safety Department for his exceptional streak of accident-free operations. In the coming months, he plans to take an after-work management course and eventually earn a “mini” MBA. He has plenty of advice for those looking to improve their workspace safety.

“Offer help continually, and generally mean it,” he said. “Walk the floors, get out there with people, and always offer help. These are great one-on-one experiences.”