Roco Rescue sat down with the North Dakota Safety Council’s Executive Director Chuck Clairmont to discuss the role of the council, the development of its Safety Campus, and where the council is headed in the future.

Roco Rescue: Thank you, Chuck, for sitting down with us today to talk about the North Dakota Safety Council (NDSC) and the work that you are doing. What are the major industries in North Dakota and how does that impact what you do as a safety council?

Clairmont: We have a pretty diverse industrial sector, but the oil and gas industry has grown exponentially over the past 15 years, as technology has enabled more efficient extraction from the Bakken Formation. That brings along a lot of oilfield services providers and downstream industries. There’s been just so much work, so many jobs to fill, that it’s also driven growth in our state’s population and workforce, which then creates a need for more infrastructure such as utilities, mines, plants, transportation, retail. 

All that rapid growth is great for the economy, but it has not been without some safety challenges. As a safety council, we’ve rapidly expanded with the economy, with help and partnership from our members. Our industrial members all work hard to be compliant with regulatory requirements, so there’s a great need for training in areas like fall protection, trench rescue, personal protective equipment and safety equipment. Our member companies recognize that it’s not just about production, it’s about people. Workplace safety has evolved to the point where safety truly is the most important thing. Getting your workers home safely every night is the goal.

At NDSC, we work to support safety across the state. To give you an example, one project we recently worked on was the development a safety orientation training program for oil and gas contractors. We have 30+ oil companies operating in North Dakota, and they all were running their own safety orientation trainings, which was very repetitive for the contractors working at multiple company sites. The North Dakota Petroleum Council took the lead, and with the time and support of almost 100 people and 4,000 hours of combined development time, we worked with the oil companies, including producers, contractors, and service companies, to develop one comprehensive orientation program that addressed all their needs, and is a one-stop shop for the contractors. To date, 13 producers have signed on to the program called One Basin One Way (OBOW) and over 16,000 contractors have gone through the orientation since the first class on June 10, 2019. The NDSC is one of two training centers authorized to teach the OBOW orientation.

Roco Rescue: What is the NDSC’s mission?

Clairmont: The safety council is dedicated to preventing injuries and saving lives. The mission used to be longer than that, but in 2018, we wanted to make it more pointed, so we narrowed it to one statement that encompasses everything that we aim to do.

Roco Rescue: How do you take on such an ambitious mission, and who do you serve?

Clairmont: Our goal is preventing incidents by teaching people to: recognize hazards, learn how to respond to unsafe conditions, and keep safety top of mind. We promote advocacy and safe practices in the workplace, the home, and the community.

Although our territory is the entire state of North Dakota, our outreach, in fact, goes beyond our state. Industries doing business in North Dakota recognize that they need safety support in our state, so they become members.

Our membership now encompasses all industries, including oil/gas, construction, utilities, governmental, and healthcare. Our members include producers, contractors, business owners, and even some individuals. We cover the gamut in terms of not only industry but the level of training, from beginner to expert.

It’s our passion and purpose that drives us to reach as many people as possible with quality training, presentations, and educational material.

Roco Rescue: What does your role as the NDSC’s Executive Director entail and how has the council evolved since you first started?

Clairmont: I became Executive Director in 2007. Since then, we’ve grown from four full-time to thirty-seven full and part-time employees and expanded our outreach to include members from every industry. The most exciting and rewarding part is the growth of our outreach numbers to 50,000 people each year through a variety of courses and presentations. One key way that we’re able to reach people is through courses taught at our state-of-the-art safety campus, which was completed in August of 2017.

Roco Rescue: Tell us more about your Safety Campus and why it was created.

Clairmont: The NDSC Safety Campus is a 24,000-square foot, 3-story building consisting of an indoor training lab, classrooms, office space and a 4,200-square foot indoor training center, complete with a 26-foot tall indoor structure that’s used to teach rescue techniques such as rope rescue, confined space rescue and more.

The facility was built to bring affordable, state-of-the-art training in a way people learn best – in an active, hands-on environment. With high-tech classrooms and hands-on training spaces, we now have an environment set up to provide innovative and engaging training. This includes providing training to rescue teams in our region’s rapidly growing industrial sector. People come from across the state and region to use the facility. We teach everything from defensive driving and first aid to equipment operator training to mine safety and health and so much more.

The idea to build the facility was born in 2012 when our board of directors approached me and asked, “If you had $10 million, what would you do?” They urged me to “think big.” I told them I wanted a way to make safety training more engaging and memorable by providing hands-on experience. I said I would build a safety campus where we would not only provide basic, general safety education but also train people on technical topics like fall protection, rigging, and rope rescue.

One of our members told me about Roco Rescue, so I did a little research and liked what I saw. I called Roco Rescue and began a dialogue about our goals and vision for a safety campus. About a year into those conversations, our building got enough funding to break ground.

We modeled our training tower after the Roco Training Center. I worked closely with Roco Rescue and we brought some structural engineers in to help us with the design. We are very thankful for the support we received from Roco Rescue throughout the entire process.

Roco Rescue’s Josh Hill became the point person for assigning instructors to conduct the NDSC’s training and he remains in that role today. Roco Rescue instructors frequently offer training at the NDSC Safety Campus; to partner with a company as highly respected in the industry as Roco Rescue is such a huge benefit to our trainers and students. Our trainers are great, but they don’t have the level of expertise on all these techniques the way you do. Your instructors are the best of the best.

Roco Rescue has helped us expand our reach beyond our state borders. Industry groups from Billings, Minneapolis, Sioux Falls, and even Denver come to our training facility to take classes in confined space, rope rescue, fall protection, and more. Our location allows entire groups from the region – who wouldn’t likely be able to travel as a team to the Roco Training Center in Baton Rouge – access to Roco Rescue’s top-notch instructors and rigorous curriculum.

Roco Rescue: I appreciate the compliment, Chuck. You mentioned rope rescue, confined space and fall protection. What other kinds of training do you offer at your Safety Campus?

Clairmont: Just as our membership spans all industries and levels, our training facility meets the needs of our membership and includes all industries and levels as well: from the mom wanting to train her daughter in personal protection before she leaves for college, to the oil/gas company that needs orientation training for their contractors, to very large companies who have an entire safety department they want to train on a higher supervisory level, all of these types of training are offered at our campus.

The depth of our programs spans from basic first aid classes and safety compliance classes all the way to the highest-level technical training classes like rope rescue, high angle rescue – the types of classes that are offered by Roco Rescue.

Roco Rescue: Can you tell us more about how you funded your facility?

Clairmont: When we first broached the idea of creating this facility, we went to the Governor of North Dakota and asked for funding, and he put $2 million in the budget to help support our $10 million project. A year later, with two days left of the legislative session, the budget went to the floor of the House and ultimately, we lost the vote 45-43 and didn’t get any funds.

We didn’t let that stop us, but we had to revise our plans. Instead of building a two-building, $10 million facility, we planned to construct a one-building, $6.1 million facility. Without any state funding, we didn’t start building until October 2016. Our members stepped up and helped support us, contributing $2.7 million, and we got a low-interest loan for the rest.

I wouldn’t say I’m happy that we didn’t get that $2 million from the legislature, but it forced us to take our vision to our members and get them onboard, so they have a greater sense of partnership with us in the whole endeavor. Funding the project on our own, with the support of our members, I believe it made us stronger.

For other safety councils around the country interested in capital projects like a training center, my advice is to get support from industry by demonstrating the benefits to them. Ultimately safety benefits everyone in the entire state, helps workforce development and makes the state a more attractive place to do business.

Roco Rescue: That’s a great story. How would you characterize the NDSC’s relationship with the National Safety Council? Is your work closely aligned, or are you relatively autonomous?

Clairmont: The National Safety Council (NSC) is one of the most important nonprofit safety organizations in the country. We’re one of twenty-one state chapters that fall under the National Safety Council’s umbrella. The NSC’s influence is nationwide and, in some cases, worldwide; whereas we have a territory. We train on their core group of products, including their First Aid, CPR and defensive driving products.

As a state chapter, we have both the national branding and recognition of the NSC, as well as the autonomy to expand our programs to what best fits the specific needs of our community.

I was NDSC’s chapter representative on the NSC Board of Directors for four years, which gave me a window into how some of the real visionaries on that board think, and allowed me to bring some of my learnings around strategic planning and leadership back to North Dakota. For example, we went out to Google and looked at their autonomous vehicles and got to consider the role of the NSC in promoting and enhancing the safety of autonomous vehicles.

Roco Rescue: Do you have relationships with the other state safety councils?

Clairmont: We work closely with other chapters as both a resource and for support. If we have a successful program, we share with the other chapters and vice versa.

Roco Rescue: You’ve just wrapped up your 47th Annual Safety + Health Conference. How did that go?

Clairmont: Great! Our conference is one of the biggest in the Midwest and has grown tremendously. This year we had nearly 1,000 conference attendees and 140 vendors.

We have a regional reach and have attendees from 14 states, due to the high-quality breakout sessions and the great speakers we get. Our conference also offers excellent hands-on training sessions – I know Roco put on a few training classes – as well as networking, sharing of best practices and business development opportunities. They have been a tremendous partner since we connected with them over 5 years ago.

Roco Rescue: What are your future goals for the NDSC?

Clairmont: My goal has always been to expand the NDSC’s reach. When I first started, we probably reached 10,000-15,000 people. Now, through our training, advocacy, and other programs, we reach 50,000 people a year.

Our future plans for the council include incorporating new technologies into our training such as virtual reality and machines that simulate slips, trips, and falls. We plan to enlist mobile training units so we can reach the people who can’t come to us. And we have plans to add another building to our campus. Phase 2 will include an enclosed 50x200-foot training area with 30-foot ceilings, large equipment, and larger classrooms enabling us to offer conferences and seminars to larger audiences.

Roco Rescue: That sounds great, Chuck. Great job with the NDSC and good luck with all your future plans for the safety council. Thank you again for speaking with us today.

Roco Rescue has been a part of the technical rescue community since 1981. They have trained more than 50,000 emergency responders - from municipal, industrial, military, FEMA and USAR teams. Roco teaches rescuers on confined space, high-angle, trench, structural collapse, fall protection and tactical. Roco also provides industrial standby rescue and safety services, and sells top-notch rescue equipment.