The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


On Saturday morning, I woke up early, drove to the appropriately named town of Shafter (about 15 miles north of Bakersfield), and register for the CalOSHA-approved class for Hazardous Waste and Material Operations (AKA HAZWOPER), where I would, allegedly, learn how to safely handle hazardous waste, and respond appropriately when the handling of said waste goes awry. The class lasts for two weeks: this past weekend, and this coming weekend, with 20-hours of class per weekend.

I hope that next week is an improvement, because this last weekend was, with the exception of a couple of hours in which we learned to take basic medical vitals information, a complete waste of time. The information presented this week might have been useful were I a welder, plumber, or electrical worker, but as I do none of these things, and my job prevents me from being in a situation where any such things are at all in my power, it wasn't a particularly good use of time. Still, next week we will start dealing with the actual hazardous material portion, as well as signs of trouble that will be visible to someone other than the immediate welder/plumber/equipment operator/etc., which should be useful to me.

At any rate, I left my apartment at 6:00 Saturday morning to drive to the thriving metropolis of Shafter to attend the first of four 10-hour days of the HAZWOPER training. Entering the classroom, I saw that our instructor was a guy named Keith. Now, I have had to do several safety trainings and certifications at this facility before, and had several instructors, but Keith is my favorite. Here's the best way to describe this instructor: imagine that Larry the Cable Guy became a professional wrestler and then became an Army drill sergeant before becoming a Hell's Angel/coffee house hipster who teaches drivers ed to have an excuse to watch Red Asphalt. You are left with the impression that Keith could easily break you in half while giving a hilarious and ironic commentary on the subject. The material is often boring, but Keith is entertaining and he knows the subject well enough to provide all necessary information. Also, due to his experience, the class had more horror stories than a semester of Driver's Ed.

While the instructor was of good quality, I can not say as much for many of the students. A few of them, such as someone who was training to become and oil field safety inspector, a guy who looked like Jim Croce (and asked a few questions hinting that he had seen more than a few horrible injuries), and a fellow who had just gotten a job after a period of unemployment, these were the people who were taking the class seriously and really paying attention. The rest, however, seemed to treat the class as a joke, which is unfortunate as, unlike me, every one of them had jobs to which the course material directly pertained. Some of the people in the class were in training ot become EMTs, and given the quality of their behavior, I sincerely hope that I never have a medical emergency in Kern County.

One group of people were sent by a hazardous material handling/safety equipment inspection and preparation company known as Hazard Safety Services Incorporated (HSSI), and if the people in this classroom are any indication of the standard HSSI employee, I think I'll just walk away from any job site where I am having to rely on them for safety. I wouldn't trust these guys to tie their own shoes, much less safely handle dangerous equipment and materials. Amongst this group was a guy who I took to referring to as "Princess Diana" owing to his giant cubic-zirconium disks in his ears and his ugly and huge white plastic sunglasses, which reminded me of a cheap imitation of the rather excessive finery that used to show up whenever the media talked about the British royal family.. He looked like a reject from a movie about underachievers living in a frat house, and spent most of the two days that we were there disrupting class to make allegedly clever (but in reality irritating) comments to and about the instructor (who I am surprised didn't just crush the kid under his boot heel). Sad thing is, the kid probably thought that he looked and sounded cool, leading me to wonder in which head trauma ward his employer found him.

Really, with the exceptions mentioned above, looking at the other people in the classroom, I now know what happened to all of the kids I knew who flunked out of remedial basket-weaving. If these are the people responsible for safe handling of hazardous materials, then we're thoroughly doomed as a species.

On the upside, there was some amusement to be had during the class. We watched a truly awful safety video, the host of which looked like Glenn Beck and Dan Ackroyd had a baby. I learned two new terms: "Unexpected energization" - when a piece of equipment that is supposed ot be shut down turns on; and "metal fume fever" which is a malady to which welders are prone, but sounds like it should be a Ted Nugent song. I also learned that, contrary to what I had thought, the reason why smoking is no longer allowed in hospitals is not because it seems like a bad idea to have health care providers doing something astoundingly unhealthy around patients, but because oxygen-rich environments within the hospital kept catching on fire and exploding. Think of that next time someone tells you that medicine doesn't advance, at least you are now unlikely to explode in a hospital*.

As I said, the class lasted two days, meaning that I drove two hours each morning to get to class, and two hours each evening to get home. This coming weekend, I'll just book a hotel room.

Well, this coming weekend will cover material that is actually of use to me, so it should be a better deal. Here's hoping that Princess Diana can keep his trap shut and that the EMT students make me less hesitant about Kern County medical care.

*Which, admittedly, makes medicine less exciting, if better for you.

No comments: