Safety training classes are essential to success…and to save lives

When the coronavirus pandemic kicked into full gear, some of the many county services that got shut down were the employee-focused, in-person training and education programs. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the state of Washington allowed for various certifications to be postponed. Ever since the state removed those restrictions this spring, the team responsible for trainings has been in hyperdrive trying to meet the demand and recertify all employees that need to be.

Tammy Harris gives CPR instruction.

“Safety training is essential to the success of many King County employees,” said Mary Beth Short, Central Employee Service Division Director. “Not only does it help prevent on-the-job injuries, it also helps keep workers’ compensation claims down.”

King County offers a variety of safety training courses for employees, ranging from forklift safety to defensive driving to emergency evacuation floor warden. Some of these are required before an employee can begin a job, such as traffic control flagging, but others can be taken by almost any employee. The most popular of these courses available to employees is CPR — or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation — and first aid training.

“One of the cool things about CPR and first aid training is that people are more likely to need it in their personal lives than on the job,” said Tammy Harris, one of the two safety trainers. “This makes it all worthwhile, knowing people have used this in real situations.”

Tammy’s official title is Occupational Education and Training Program Administrator Senior. “That’s a mouthful,” she said, preferring to go with the more digestible Safety Trainer.

After getting an education degree, Tammy decided that teaching wasn’t her calling, so she did a stint in the insurance business. That experience helped her land a role at King County in 1993 managing workers’ compensation claims. In 2000 when the trainer position came open, her education and previous experience made her a perfect fit for the role. She’s evolved with the program over the years, learning to lead some trainings virtually and in person, even taking the show on the road.

“It’s a lot of fun for me to do in-person trainings,” Tammy said with a smile. Most departments request a training on site, but not all locations have a conference room “so we have to think creatively, whether it’s setting up in Atlantic Base Vehicle Maintenance shop or working with a road crew in Skykomish.”  

Karen Bert leads a training.

In 2008, the decision was made to create a second trainer position. Karen Bert, who also prefers the shorter Safety Trainer title, saw how much her former coworker from Workers’ Compensation enjoyed the training job and decided to give it a try. She’s never looked back.

“Helping people is in my nature,” Karen said, “it’s very important to me.”  She even went back to support the Department of Human Resources Compensation team during the pandemic shutdown because they were dealing with so many additional claims. “It fell under the ‘other duties as assigned’ clause in the job description,” she quipped.

Training to the rescue

Earlier this year, the week after receiving a CPR and First Aid training at the Office of Emergency Management, employees’ knowledge was put to the test when a coworker suffered a heart attack on the job. And as recently as this summer, another King County employee used his county CPR training to provide assistance in an emergency situation on a coworker.

“Our goal is that people leave the class confident in how to handle a situation if it arises and to be willing to try to help if they need to,” Tammy said. “It’s better to perform it on someone who doesn’t need it than decide not to do it when someone does. And it’s better to be trained.“

The training course is available in-person and a blended virtual method. The CPR element includes active hands-on learning with mannequins, while the first aid portion covers several topics including EpiPens (for allergic reactions), bandaging (severe external bleeding), discussion about the signs of a heart attack, signs of shock and concussions, using Narcan for overdoses, and more.

“They’ve both been with the county a long time and take their work seriously,” said Mary Beth. “They teach in a way that’s understandable and effective to boots on the ground. Their work really does make a difference.“

To learn more about safety classes, CPR and First Aid training, and other educational opportunities, visit