Ohio safety training aims to minimize the hazards of roadwork.

It can be frightening for motorists who must share busy city streets or narrow county roads with work crews operating heavy equipment. A driver is dependent on the crew members’ ability to safely operate equipment to reduce hazards in construction zones. Ohio’s state transportation department is providing in-depth training necessary to increase the safety of the public and individuals working among traffic.

The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Northwest Regional Training Facility in Beaverdam, Ohio, is where state workers learn to handle large snow plows, wheel loaders and seven-ton dump trucks. Since 1997, these courses have been offered to city and county organizations from across the state. In the last five years, these trainers with ODOT have taught their courses to more than 250 workers from different municipalities, with plans to train more.

A typical training exercise using heavy equipment at Beaverdam.
Ed Bigger and Art Zimpfer are highway workers with ODOT. Bigger brings his years of experience as a Marine Corps heavy equipment operator and Vietnam verteran to his work as a “borrowed” trainer with the program. He has been with the program for the past two years, while Zimpfer has put in four years as a trainer. Both teach safety, and a whole lot more, to their students.

“It’s about building a positive attitude and good habits,” said Zimpfer. “Operators with years of experience can get into bad habits. We want to remind them about safety.”

“It’s also about self-confidence,” adds Bigger. “We have seen students just learning about their vehicles improve 80 to 100 percent as drivers just by building their confidence. We want to see that confidence grow.”

Courtney Gaiter, head trainer with the program, emphasizes teamwork with his staff.

Making a Difference

Safety Coordinator Mark Waite with the Franklin County Engineer’s Office has witnessed the benefits of these classes. “I have seen a reduction in accidents, definitely,” he said. “We now have a uniform method for safety practices to reduce accidents. The trainers know their stuff, and people do listen.”

The courses last four to eight days for training on wheel compactors, excavators and dump trucks, and two weeks for the truck and loader course.

Whether it’s classroom work of field exercises, trainer Jim Kleman and the other instructors try to create a positive class atmosphere. “We try to keep things enjoyable and fun,” he said. “We want them to be ready to get behind the wheel and not be afraid to make mistakes. After all, they are here to learn.”

The trainers’ experiences with different classes have helped them reach out to everyone, from old-hands to newcomers. Land surveyors, or anyone whose work takes them close to traffic, can benefit from the course instruction on setting up signs and observing proper conduct. Even students who at first seem like they can’t or won’t get anything out of the class find value in what they learn.

“One student told me he had already been a heavy equipment operator for 20 years and told me flat out there was nothing new I could teach him,” said Kleman. “He went through the course and changed his mind. We take extra time to help students with any part of the course that may be giving them trouble. We want to see everyone succeed.”

Student evaluations indicate they appreciate the courses and instructors: on a scale of one to five, students on average rated the courses at 4.5. Additionally, about 95 percent of students say they would return for further course work.

Working together, the instructors all know they can rely on each other, and especially on their head trainer. Supervisor Courtney Gaiter is a regional equipment training specialist and Desert Storm veteran. Gaiter has made the military spirit of working together the very heart of what he and his group do.

“I can’t emphasize teamwork enough,” said Gaiter. “We work together as a unit. I also have the support of my supervisors, which makes all the difference.”

Working with other agencies is just one more way ODOT can help serve the public. Gordon Proctor, director of ODOT, emphasized partnership is important to Ohio. “Beyond our formal duties, we are a part of the life of the community. We are proud of the spirit of cooperation which makes training programs like this so successful.”