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Building Safer Workplaces

SafetyFestMT offers free education and training on workplace safety in Kalispell from Jan. 8-12

When Chris Nestell became the safety officer for Western Building Center, he really had no idea what he was getting himself into.

In fact, when asked if he knew how detailed the job would be, he laughed for about seven seconds straight before answering.

“I had an inkling,” Nestell said in an interview last week, “but it was not even close to what I encountered.”

His first success was making the corporate yard at WBC – which is full of trucks and forklifts – safer. Then, in 2012, WBC hired him on as the company’s safety officer. Now, Nestell is responsible for 15 WBC locations including both the industrial and commercial branches.

“I visit every location at least once a month,” he said. “When I started, they had one of the worst records for safety in the state. Last year and this year are the best start rates they’ve had in their company’s 71-year history.”

Nestell credits most, if not all, of his safety success to the education and networking opportunities he found at SafetyFestMT, a weeklong, free conference put on by the state Department of Labor and local business entities to provide training and education on various safety issues.

SafetyFest happens four times a year, and offers a core curriculum of OSHA classes and other training to build a successful safety program. The next week of training will take place in Kalispell, from Jan. 8-12, at Flathead Valley Community College.

Casey Kyler-West, education and outreach supervisor for the safety bureau of the DLI, said conferences allow for more accessibility to the information.

“There’s no charge to attend,” Kyler-West said. “We do this on purpose so people have access to the training.”

The agenda for Kalispell’s SafetyFest includes: 40-hour HAZWOPER training, OSHA 30 for construction, OSHA 30 for general industry, OSHA 10 for construction, first aid and CPR, flagging and work-zone safety, a course on ergonomics, how to build a safety program, open-cut mine permitting, a course on slips, trips and falls, machine guarding, meth awareness, agriculture and ATV safety, defensive driving, forklift training, scaffolding safety, record keeping and reporting, MSHA blue card training, work comp, managing work comp for small businesses, unemployment insurance, and more.

There will also be extensive training on workplace violence, Kyler-West said, including a class from Flathead County Sheriff’s Dep. Travis Bruyer on active shooters.

“That’s a class that we’ve added just unfortunately due to our (society’s) climate,” she said. “That really actually pulls a lot of people in.”

SafetyFest will also include a panel with four local safety representatives, including Nestell. The other panelists will be Cyndee Carter of Montana Rockworks, Travis Sallee of Loren’s Auto Repair, and Damon Repine of CDM Smith in Libby.

Nestell said many of the classes and trainings offered during SafetyFest would normally run into hundreds of dollars per employee in the private sector.

“The forklift training … that averages $600 to $800 per head,” Nestell said. “SafetyFest gives you that information and connects you to the people so you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars when you’re a five- or six-person company.”

Kyler-West said MSHA Blue Card training, which allows people to become mining trainers and contractors on mine sites, typically costs $900 and upward in the private sector. The HAZWOPER training can cost between $600 and $1,500. The OSHA 10 courses are usually about $150.

“Our goal is not to compete to the private sector, but to get folks access,” she said.

Some courses are limited, and pre-registration ends Jan. 2. But Kyler-West said people can show up about half an hour early to see if there’s room in the class they’d like to attend.

SafetyFestMT events are paid for by an assessment on worker’s compensation benefits paid out to claimants; Kyler-West said the claimant gets the full amount of money owed, and the insurers add an extra 1 percent to provide education and outreach at no cost.

The first year he found out about SafetyFest, Nestell attended all four events across the state that year, soaking up information and meeting new people in the industry who could help him build a successful program for WBC.

Now, he wants to be able to share that knowledge to help others.

“I’m to the point where I give anybody and everybody as much information as I’ve accumulated over the years,” Nestell said. “I try to help the small businesses not to have to go through what I did to get to this point.”

For more information on SafetyFestMT, visit