Longtime OSHA Training Institute Education Center instructor Mike Estep recently suggested that we interview Tara Morris after her outstanding participation and performance in his OSHA Standards for General Industry course. I quickly understood early in my conversation with Tara why Mike wanted us to showcase this smart, energetic and caring young woman as an excellent example of the bright future for workplace safety. Tara has already learned a lot about the importance of maintaining a safe work environment, some of it under high-pressure, real-world conditions, and is very focused on pursuing a career in safety.

Tara’s interest in occupational safety began to unfold after she joined the US Navy two and a half years ago and started her training as an Aviation Electrician, working with the Navy’s MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. While learning the technical aspects of being an electrician and its application to the MH-60 was key, equally important was understanding the multiple levels of safety standards and in-depth safety protocols involved in handling and maintaining such large aircraft. As Tara says, she and her team had to learn “how not to kill yourself and others.”

One of the safety programs Tara participated in was Operational Risk Management (ORM) training, which focuses on reducing or offsetting risks by systematically identifying hazards, assessing and controlling the associated risks, and making decisions based on weighing risks against benefits. Tara felt that ORM training gave her a solid grounding in safety by emphasizing how vital it is to manage risk in every aspect of your job duties.

Tara was part of an essential team responsible for taxiing helicopters into hangars after landing and back into position prior to takeoff. She was trained to troubleshoot all electrical aspects of the aircraft and help conduct pilot safety checks before takeoff. She also became certified as a Plane Captain, which entails making sure the helicopter is ready for flight and leading a team of six qualified personnel for the safety of the aircraft move. In this high-pressure situation, Tara acquired and developed firsthand experience in the critical role of keeping herself and her team safe during these complex maneuvers by staying vigilant and alert to potential missteps that could lead to serious injuries or worse.

To illustrate the dangers involved with maintaining and moving the MH-60 aircraft, Tara described a near miss incident that she witnessed. A Plane Captain was directing a crew in the movement of the specified aircraft, walking backwards and shuffling side to side to maneuver the aircraft into a confined space. He didn’t notice a puddle of hydraulic fluid behind him and stepped into it, slipped and fell. Other team members followed safety protocol by blowing their required whistles (standard issue gear) to alert the entire crew to stop the aircraft from moving until the Plane Captain could safely move out of the way. Without safety procedures and training, this incident could have easily ended in disaster.

One of the numerous challenges Tara experienced in her Naval duties was the fact that many of her fellow crew members were only 19 or 20 years old. While everyone received extensive training on the technical and safety aspects of the job, these younger sailors were relatively inexperienced and sometimes needed extra attention and reminders regarding professionalism and safety. Since Tara is older than many on the team (all of 29!), when she tried to give them extra guidance, they sometimes referred to her as the mom, a role she was happy to play if it meant keeping the team safer.

Tara credits her mentor, a First Class Petty Officer, with suggesting that she explore her interest in safety by taking an OSHA 10-Hour class, which sparked her interest and motivated her to continue expanding her safety education. She also expressed gratitude for the support she received from Russell Levy, Founder & President of Veterans Transition Support, who offered valuable information and encouraged her to keep on the safety track. Tara’s next step was to take the OSHA 30-Hour class, where she was inspired by veterans speaking about how they had pursued careers with OSHA. Tara later enrolled in OSHA #511 and being one of the youngest participants didn’t hinder her from becoming an exceptional student.

Tara will be leaving the Navy in September and plans to stay focused on furthering her education in safety and other subjects that will support her goal of a safety career. She is taking online OSHA classes and studying Lean Six Sigma to learn how to present cost/benefit analyses to management in support of workplace safety. She is also considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Hygiene. In the meantime, she will be on the lookout for an opening as a safety assistant or other entry level position that will allow her to gain more on-the-job experience.

Tara ultimately wants to become “the best Safety Manager I can be.” She says, “People are my passion, safety is my mission” and believes that building trust with others is essential to being effective in supporting safety in the workplace. We are excited to welcome Tara Morris to the occupational safety and health community and look forward to watching her grow and develop as part of the next generation of safety professionals.