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Hazardous Materials Instructors

The end of the year is upon us, and as we celebrate our good fortune and thankfulness of our accomplishments as well as the goodwill we have passed through training and rescues, to others along the way, we should consider our annual 8hr “refresher” course guidelines for team compliance. When deciding upon a mentor for the coming year, always choose wisely, your safety as well as the safety of those you save is of the utmost concern.  

Under the original Guidelines listed in the “now” historical documents 29 CFR 1910.1200 hazardous materials trainers should have certain criteria. Those of you who have been trained under these guidelines like I, can appreciate that you too, are now relegated to being historical. Regardless of our historical dating, the basic pre-requisites should be pondered by the aspiring instructor. Under our federal rule, internal as well as external instructors should strive to satisfy these minimum requirements.

The first is to ensure that the people tasked with the responsibility of performing this training are of the highest quality.

The second is that they too are certified as hazardous materials specialists.

Thirdly they must have completed some type of formal training course “specifically for” the delivery of instruction.

Fourth, they must have training and or academic credentials.

Finally, they must command a good understanding of the subject matter at hand.

While these are minimums, do they confirm a “good” instructor? I believe a quality instructor must also have passion regarding a number of qualities. One is the desire to formulate concepts and ideas in the students mind. For it is here that the true command of an incident comes into play. Hazardous Materials Responses are an orchestration of creativity, not just the repetition of federal mandates. Next, it should be mandatory that the aspiring Hazardous Materials Instructor have actual industrial response experience. This is simply accomplished by working for an Environmental contracting company in the emergency response sector. This gives the aspiring instructor a perspective from opposite ends of the spectrum. This is critical to give the instructor the experience when issues surface in class, as to why a certain procedure was followed. Then, the aspiring instructor must have the interest in his field to stay current with all aspects of environmental remediation and technology. He must constantly read and stay abreast of new technologies, remedial outcomes, and the evolution of the industry. Finally, a quality instructor should have Hazardous Materials as a personal hobby. The lack of one or more of these elements is frequently seen in most “refresher” courses mandated by the final EPA rule.

To accomplish these goals is no easy feat for an individual dabbling in hazardous materials. All periodicals directly affecting his “hobby” must be read, noted, and recorded if they are of substance, or, can be applied within the correct format for future “refresher” courses. The official format for an 8hr HazWoper “Refresher” is easy to find, but very difficult to orchestrate when dabbling. To those of us who feel this way, these concepts are clearly reflected in the 8hr “Refreshers” we host. In actuality, the 8hr course should become the most interesting to the students and instructor alike. It is here that a more interactive instructor/student interface occurs. As a result of this, real learning and the correction of faults both occur. Because the “refresher” course relies heavily on past hazardous materials responses the 8hr refresher often takes the place of the most often forgotten “post-incident-critique”.

The Hazardous Materials Instructor must be many things. He must blend a combination of elements together to not only provide learning, but have an end result of a positive class experience for all students in attendance. This is accomplished by the Instructor becoming the “parts” of the whole. He must be part theatrics, part comedian, part counselor, part friend, and part responder. These parts must surface at the right times to produce the desired result namely, a quality class that helps the student learn and retain the information well past the courses’ finish.

Theatrics play the important role of delivering serious and life altering information at a critical time. They must be used sparingly so as to command attention from the students even in the waning hours of the classroom. I find this technique best used before scheduled break, as the student tends to continue the discussion, hence learning and retaining more while on the mutual break with the Instructor. Overuse of the theatric method ends up as non-attention spans from your audience. Relating non-offensive jokes of short duration to your class can be equally beneficial. This is most often successful when they involve your past actions within the punch line. This defines your reality as a responder too, not just an authority on high. Knowing when to council students regarding open discussions in class as to why personalities come into play when deciding the outcome of a response scenario is also important. Students need to know that the issue of politics, and personalities have caused failure at responses, and will continue to, based on the simple precedent that humility is a characteristic often needed and not often found on many responses. Friendliness is paramount to instruction, regardless of what occurs in class an Instructor must always demonstrate to the class that he is there to aid the student’s future success. Lastly, never be amiss at relating to the class your own response experiences. These not only demonstrate experience, but also show the class that the Instructor is also a responder. In other words a reliable experienced source that can be trusted to make sound and safe judgments in the interest of the student’s Team.

Your teaching style will develop its own “form” as these ideas evolve. The evolution of who you are as an Instructor must be tempered with the knowledge that your class “is” an audience, and as such, entertaining is an element. Your challenge is to chemically combine these elements into a desired compound. You accomplish this goal by using a balanced combination of components to entertain, just enough to get the message across.

                                         Haz Mat Mike


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