ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. – Dick Nugent is a recipient of what is regarded as one of the highest honors among those in the safety profession.
Nugent, the Safety, Health and Environment Manager for National Aerospace Solutions, the Test Operations and Sustainment contractor at Arnold Air Force Base, was recently named an American Society of Safety Professionals Fellow.
“To say I was humbled and honored is an understatement,” Nugent said. “The people who have been awarded this before me, they are who I consider the pioneers on which everything we do today is built upon. They are it. It’s awe-inspiring to be in that company.”
The ASSP, established in 1911, is the world’s oldest professional safety organization. The ASSP, comprised of approximately 40,000 members across 80 countries, supports occupational safety and health professionals in their efforts to prevent workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities, according to the organization’s website.
The honor of ASSP Fellow recognizes a member’s lifetime commitment to worker safety and health. According to ASSP, it is the organization’s most prestigious honor. Among other nominee requirements, those named as ASSP Fellows must have a history of significant contributions to the occupational safety and health profession over a minimum period of 20 years.
On average, around two safety professionals are named ASSP Fellows each year. Around 130 people have received the honor since 1961. Nugent is one of four safety experts in the U.S. to be named an ASSP Fellow in 2019.
“ASSP Fellows are the heart of our profession and deserve significant credit for their dedicated work to advance occupational safety and health performance as well as in the profession itself,” ASSP President Rixio Medina stated in a release announcing the 2019 ASSP Fellows. “Their career achievements in preventing workplace injuries, illnesses and fatalities are an inspiration, helping to improve business outcomes worldwide.”
Nugent, who holds four degrees including a master’s from the University of Idaho, has worked in the safety field since August 1978, and he has been an ASSP member since 1982, previously serving as vice president on the ASSP Board of Directors. He is a certified safety professional who has worked both domestically and abroad in various industries, including plastics, chemicals and nuclear, and with a number of entities, including the Department of Energy and Department of Defense.
He has been employed by Bechtel, the parent company of NAS, for the past 21 years. He was assigned to NAS when the company made its proposal to serve as the TOS contractor at Arnold AFB, and he has been at Arnold since April 2016.
“Here at Arnold, this is probably the one place in my entire career where I’ve ever worked where everybody here is on the same page,” he said. “Everyone is very nice and ready to jump in and work together. That’s my own group and the workforce in general.”
Nugent shared further praise for his fellow NAS Safety employees, who he said work diligently to ensure the safety of NAS employees and those across the base.
“They’re a very talented and very dedicated and the most collaborative group I’ve ever seen,” Nugent said. “The group here is not competitive. They’re all here to help each other.”
Nugent said safety is vital to the mission at Arnold and is the top priority across the base.
“I know we’re a Department of Defense site. I know we support the warfighter and their effort and what we do here has to be right,” he said. “But it’s not worth getting hurt over.”
Nugent and others in NAS Safety must sometimes coordinate with those in Air Force Safety, adding each entity knows when to engage with one another.
Nugent said his job is gratifying, even though he and other safety professionals may not immediately see how their efforts are benefitting those they serve.
“It’s rewarding, but the reward is not readily evident,” he said. “I can tell you right now that I have no idea today whether somebody not getting hurt today is because of something I or we did three years ago. I don’t know. You just do what you know is right to do, and you hope that everybody does what they’re supposed to do and, in the end, we can go home the same way we came to work – uninjured.
“But the reward is, at the end of the day, hopefully whatever you did protected an asset or saved a life or protected the environment.”
NAS General Manager Dr. Rich Tighe has known Nugent since both were employed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site in the late 1990s. Although their paths have crossed a few times over the years, Arnold AFB marks the first time in around 20 years that Tighe and Nugent have had the opportunity to work together.
“When I came here seven months ago, knowing Dick was the SHE manager here, it gave me confidence in that it was someone I knew and respected, someone who I had worked with, and someone who I knew I could rely on,” Tighe said.
Tighe added he leans on Nugent’s leadership and knowledge to improve the NAS safety performance at Arnold. Like Nugent, Tighe said workforce safety is the top priority for NAS.
“There is no higher priority for NAS than to make sure that everyone goes home every day in the same condition that they show up here at the beginning of the day. There is nothing more important to us than that,” Tighe said. “Beyond that, eventually when people finish their careers here at AEDC, there is nothing more important to us than that they’re in the same or better condition than when they came here. There are priorities and, clearly, getting the work done here is a very high priority, but I don’t think these are mutually exclusive. We can meet the test demands and meet our customers’ mission priorities while at the same time sending everybody home safe at the end of every day.”
Tighe said the work of Nugent and his team is integral to ensuring this happens.
Nugent and the other 2019 ASSP Fellows will be honored at the ASSP’s 2019 Professional Development Conference and Exposition, which will be held June 9-12 in New Orleans.
“I am very happy for Dick and his wife, Wanda, that he’s been recognized in this way and would also like to say how happy I am that they’re going to be able to go down to New Orleans together to this dinner and get the opportunity to celebrate this together,” Tighe said.
Nugent said he is looking forward to attending the conference, which he once chaired, to receive his Fellow medallion and plaque in person.
“I can’t begin to overstate how honored I am by this,” he said. “It’s just amazing. I never thought in a million years it would happen because, over the years in my involvement with the Society, I’ve seen many people have the title of Fellow bestowed on them and then, all of the sudden, ‘bang,’ there I am.”