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Updated 10:00 AM April 6, 2009

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Spotlight: Martial artist has the tools for safety

Teaching safety is something that Tom Hart takes seriously as a heavy-equipment mechanic for the university and as a youth martial arts instructor.

A university employee for more than 30 years, Hart has seen the things at the grease-spotted heavy-equipment garage change since his arrival in March 1979.
(Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

"Now we're under grounds and waste management, so we get to work on all of their small-engine stuff, like mowers, and the bigger stuff, like street sweepers and garbage trucks," Hart says. "Some garages are pretty glad they don't get to work on those smelly things. We welcome them down here."

Hart has been safety manager of the shop since 2001. He attends monthly meetings on safety, and makes presentations to his fellow workers. Much of the work in the shop involves overhauling equipment to improve safety.

For instance, an open-deck, wooden-plank trailer waits to be fitted with a new metal trailer bed and more hooks for harnesses to increase load security.

"This hook is not that accessible," Hart says, pointing to the problem spot. "Somebody's going to look at that and think it's not worth the trouble of trying to attach another harness to it, and go without. Well, that can lead to accidents and we definitely don't want those."

To convert a construction services trailer into a traveling work space, Hart found himself dealing with cabinet and electrical specialists to install an on-board electric generator.

"I installed these fans to get the exhaust from this generator out of the trailer," he says of the devices in the trailer floor. "You've also got to be careful with the intake and exhaust pipes. There are a lot of safety issues to take into account."

Safety also is a focus of Hart's instruction in the martial arts. At the Fine Arts Academy in Whitmore Lake, he tries to instill confidence and awareness in his students. The Little Ninjas program consists of 4- to 8-year-olds, and a more advanced program is for 15- to 17-year-olds.

Hart started practicing martial arts for physical activity when he was 21. His initial foray was into shoto khan karate with his brother and brother-in-law. After several years he entered international tae kwon do, and in 1991 trained for American-Korean tae kwon do. He earned his third-degree black belt for American-Korean tae kwon do in 1997.

One session of the advanced class dealt with encountering a grappling attacker. A student claimed his shorter height left him at a physical disadvantage. "On the street, you don't want to think that way," Hart says. "It's not about size." He then demonstrates how the student could topple a larger opponent and where to strike to break the attacker's hold.

Teaching kids such important lessons is important to Hart. "If you have five kids you can keep out of trouble for the early part of their lives, think of how much better off society will be," Hart says.

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the University. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at

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