Safety Center Celebrates 35 Years

Students participate in a TMCC Safety Center training.
Rebecca A. Eckland

Scott Alquist has been operating the TMCC Safety Center for 35 years, which adds up to over 60,000 people served so far, which also includes an average of 450 students who take the motorcycle safety classes every year. The Safety Center also writes safety programs, conducts inspections and audits and even, when requested, conducts or assists in industrial accident investigations. It is safe to say that the TMCC Safety Center is a one-stop shop for safety and compliance.
Yet, the course offerings at the Safety Center are unlike other classes and training offered at TMCC: the work in which Alquist engages is the work of saving lives. Did you know 4,746 people died at work in 2020? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that was the number of people who punched in for work that year, but didn’t have the opportunity to punch out.
“One is too many, especially if you’re the one,” said Alquist, who pointed to the costs associated with losing workers due to poor safety practices and insufficient training and compliance to OSHA and other regulatory organizations. And since 2020, Alquist has noticed that his clients have an increased concern for employee safety. 

Tailoring Training to Industry Needs

You might be surprised to learn that a large portion of clients served by the Safety Center are mining operations seeking assistance with their hazmat rescue operations. These trainings occur on-site and take Alquist and staff to remote locations, including Round Mountain and Elko as well as El Centro on the Mexican border, to name a few.  The majority of Alquist’s work is exactly this, since COVID-19 drastically changed how the Safety Center operated. 
“After COVID-19 hit, no one wanted to take the public classes, so the lion’s share today is the customized work for clients,” he said, explaining that since the Safety Center is self-funded with zero state dollars, the ongoing success of the operation depends on Alquist turning a profit, even when times are tough (as they have been for the past two years.) 
“In 2019, we were averaging five to six safety training classes per month. In 2020, I think I had around six classes total. In order to build the Safety Center back up, I do many of these customized trainings myself,” he said.
Listening to Alquist is like listening to a reference librarian of safety standards; and indeed, that’s become part and parcel of the services his program offers. As an example, working with mining clients on hazmat response and rescue operations requires an intimate understanding of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) compliance standards,  MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) rules, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) rules, and Homeland Security issues (due to the presence of “chemicals of interest.”) 
“A part of what we do is making sure that the mine site, as well as all of our clients, are meeting government or agency mandates,” he explained. 
Alquist prides the Safety Center on tailoring training programs to meet the needs of each specific client in a way in which OSHA comes face-to-face with the reality of any given workplace. He cites an example when OSHA mandated safety training for workers in the entertainment industry. This included stage hands, riggers, those who set up portable bleachers or speaker towers as well as hairstylists and makeup artists.
As an OSHA-authorized instructor, Alquist has crafted a customized, effective training for this industry given the environment, equipment and other factors within which workers must perform their jobs. “I’ve taken OSHA’s curriculum and ‘tweaked’ it to meet the needs of this industry. For example, if you look at big outdoor events like the Air Races, the Rib Cookoff or Street Vibrations, OSHA’s curriculum requires material handling training–in other words, how to operate forklifts and cranes. These just aren’t truly relevant for these workers, because they rarely use forklifts or almost never use cranes. Instead, we talk about what they are using for material handling: golf carts, gators, side-by-sides, and hand trucks. So, we try to gear these trainings to meet the specific needs of their industry.” 
Alquist said the Safety Center’s mantra reflects his philosophy on training: “We never have nor ever will teach an OSHA-compliant course. Instead, we will teach an effective course,” he said. “Just because it’s compliant doesn’t mean it's effective. But, if a course is effective, it will be compliant.”

Safety and Quality of Life

Over the 35 years, there have been numerous changes to regulations, and a large part of what Alquist and the Safety Center does is to develop and implement training based on the most up-to-date regulations. What started with a single forklift class in 1987 has grown to a multi-faceted national operation that reaches literally thousands of employees every year. Yet, as much as things have changed, however, in other ways things will remain the same. While most of the world converted to Zoom to replace in-person instructional spaces, Alquist said that when it comes to safety, the best kind of training happens the old fashioned way: in-person.
“I like to ask participants questions: What do you think about this? I like to keep them thinking and to put people on their toes. The interaction between participants is where a lot of the learning takes place,” he said. 
Alquist tried to implement a training for Winter Survival on Zoom, and the effect was less than ideal. “They just sat there and stared at the monitors. I’d have better interaction if I’d been teaching at the funeral home,” he quipped. Alquist and his staff make themselves available not just during trainings, but before, during breaks or after, in case participants have additional questions.
It’s work that Alquist believes in, and that he’s dedicated his career to, taking the Safety Center from a single forklift class to something much larger, meeting a need that will remain integral for the success of organizations for years to come.
“Employees are the biggest investment that organizations have,” Alquist said. “It’s also their biggest responsibility to protect that investment by keeping them safe.” For 35 years, Alquist has ensured that the Safety Center has offered education and training to do exactly that. 
For more information about the TMCC Safety Center, contact them at 775-857-4958.