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Kentucky Safety Training Institute Goes Mobile for National Parks

Crisscrossing America travelling to national parks to teach operator training classes is a unique and satisfying experience noted Dr. Don Webb Jr., the director of the Kentucky Safety Training Institute (KTSI). He has been in charge of the traveling program since 2006 and serves as its director and lead instructor for heavy equipment operator safety training. Webb and fellow instructor, Steve Greene, develop curriculum for customized safety training for industry and the private sector. KTSI is operated by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and is based at the Middlesboro campus, a stones throw from the iconic Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

The Kentucky Safety Training Institute came into existence as a result of a request that was made by officials at Mammoth Cave National Park in 1997. It was determined that the highest number of accidents in the Southeast United States Region of the National Park Service (NPS) involved mishaps with heavy equipment. Many of the regions workers operated a variety of equipment and many times had long intervals where they were not required to operate any machinery. The variety of equipment, combined with no operations or refresher courses and the lack of a pre-operation machine check contributed to the dangerous problem.

Since 1986, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC) has offered a 2-year heavy equipment operator training program with Professor Greene leading the program. The college was asked to develop training that would address the issue. Dr. Vic Adams, who now serves as an SKCTC vice president and is the director of the Middlesboro campus, worked with the NPS to develop and deliver the initial trainings. The inaugural class was held on the Middlesboro campus of SKCTC and was met with great success, he said. The classes continued to be held at the same location until 2004 when it was determined that the classes would travel to national parks across the country in order to better serve more park employees. The Kentucky Safety Training Institute (KSTI) was born out of this endeavor and continues to serve the National Park Service as well as local and state governments, state parks and businesses throughout the United States.

To enhance its training, KSTI utilizes state-of-the-art Cat Simulators produced by the Caterpillar Corp. The simulators, similar to those utilized to train commercial pilots, help make the local program the successes it has become. When we first heard of the availability of Cat Simulators some years ago, we were very interested in having them become part of our training regiment, suggested Dr. Webb. The simulators have travelled the country with us in our mobile simulator laboratory and have become an invaluable tool.

Cat Simulators are used in the SKCTC operator program as well as the KSTI traveling program. The relationship of the KSTI with the National Park System is most unique, he said. The national parks Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC) in Fredrick, Md., contracts KSTI for training at locations around the nation. The KSTI program trains on various machines including bulldozers, wheel loaders, backhoes, hydraulic excavators and graders.

Truck with mobile sim

The program also covers man lifts, bucket trucks, trenching/shoring machines, ground workers, pre-operation machine walkarounds, emergency procedures, mower safety with both tractors and zero turn mowers, wood chippers and chain saws. Both programs offer Cat Simulator training on the M-Series motor grader, large wheel loader, hydraulic excavator and dozer simulator systems. In a 40-hour training class, the trainees will typically get six to eight hours of time on the simulators. Dr. Webb estimates he has reduced machine training by 30 percent with the use of Cat Simulators. He also noted he saves well over $15,000 a year in fuel costs by using simulator training.

When we first heard of the availability of Cat Simulators several years back, we were very interested in making them a part of our training. The simulators have traveled the country with us in our mobile simulator lab and have become an invaluable tool to our classes, Webb said. KSTIs main goals are to raise awareness about the dangers involved in operating heavy equipment and offer training to employees to mitigate and minimize those dangers. The park employees and other venues that KSTIs program serves are always impressed and enjoy the virtual training. These simulators serve as a great introduction to non-operators, as well as a challenge to the experienced operators. We have never had a class that has been disappointed in using the simulators; many classes ask us if we would bring them when we return for future trainings, he added. Before KSTI incorporated Cat Simulators, they did not have the ability to demonstrate techniques and skills before the trainees were exposed to the hands-on field work. Being able to train with simulators allows instructors the opportunity to show trainees different techniques before they get on the actual machines. Plus, there are no concerns about operating during bad weather with simulators.

The agenda, said Webb, is determined prior to a class and then tailored to the individual park to better serve the location. The program combines lecture, audio, visual aids, simulators and hands-on field exercises. NPS employees range in age from their early 20s into their 70s. We have male and female students in nearly every class. Around 50 percent have had little experience with equipment and the rest have had moderate to high levels of experience, Webb explained.

He went on to say that over the years, the logistics of planning and implementing the classes and adapting them to the individual needs of the various park have become easier. The NPS Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC) advertises class availability through the Intranet and the parks request the training. The word gets around among the NPS employees, and they also request that the simulators be brought to their areas because they attended training with us at another park, or heard about the simulator training from another employee, he said. Other advertising is done to attract municipalities and industries. Typically, the team knows the location they will be visiting a couple of months or so in advance. They will schedule conference calls to see what type of equipment is being used in the park, classroom availability, number of students, their experience level, what type of area is available for the hands-on portion of the training and if actual ground engagement is possible. The traveling team has conducted as many as three 40-hour classes in different parts of the country per month; they average 10 to12 classes for the National Park Service each year.