NIU supports workers with free machine safety classes, thanks to a federal grant

John Newquist, an occupational safety and health instructor with NIU Continuing and Professional Education (CPE), wants people to know that amputations happen all too regularly due to workplace injuries, but they don’t have to. “The machine guarding standards from OSHA have been out for about fifty years, but we’re still seeing probably 5,000 amputations a year in the U.S., while Illinois averages about 500 a year,” he says. “So we want to show people how these injuries happen, how you can guard the machinery, where you can buy the materials to do it (including examples such as light curtains and pull cords) and how you can protect the employee.”

Thanks to a $116,644 Susan Harwood Training Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, Newquist and other instructors are able to offer machine guarding courses for free to workers who otherwise would not have access to OSHA-certified safety training. These courses are offered through NIU’s Continuing and Professional Education Unit (CPE).

“We’re so thrilled to win this grant again for the third year,” says Continuing and Professional Education Director Pettee Guerrero. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that NIU and CPE be a true partner for small businesses in our region. This grant provides us a huge opportunity to do that. We will be reaching out to small businesses in the region to extend this training to their employees, and I encourage them to contact us if they are in need.”

Pettee Guerrero, director of NIU Continuing and Professional Education.

The free machine guarding courses are between two- and six-hours long and cover various types of machinery that are common in manufacturing and food processing plants. The program helps workers identify hazards associated with the different machines and provides guidance on how to install and use safeguards to prevent injuries and comply with OSHA regulations.

Newquist is proud of NIU’s machine guarding courses, which he says stand out from other safety courses because of their focus on practical solutions. “When we safeguard the conveyor, we show examples of the conveyor guard,” he says. “We have a lab where we demonstrate the pull cords, light curtains and laser scanners that sense the proximity of someone to a robot or other potentially hazardous machine.”

Previous participants agree that NIU’s state-of-the-art CPE classrooms are one of the highlights of the machine guarding courses. Equipped with real machines, these classrooms offer the chance for hands-on experience and demonstrations. However, Newquist has also effectively adapted the course to work in a virtual online-only format, which is necessary during the pandemic.

“For all of the machines that are on the grant, we have good and bad pictures,” he says, “so you can see what it looks like when a machine is properly guarded and when it’s not.” Newquist also uses demonstration videos and the classroom’s more than ten HD webcams focused on each machine to create a virtual hands-on experience for participants.

NIU Continuing and Professional Education Instructor John Newquist demonstrates how to safely use a band saw.

Newquist worked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the U.S. Department of Labor for 29 years before coming to NIU CPE and its National Safety Education Center (NSEC). “I’ve been teaching for 35 years, and it’s something I really enjoy,” he says. He’s pleased that the online courses are allowing NIU to reach an even wider audience, with students from places like New Jersey, Texas and California, as well as Illinois, Wisconsin and other nearby states.

In addition to offering the free safety courses at NIU and online, the instructors also provide on-site training at facilities in the region. For example, NSEC instructor Don Bartalone recently provided in-person safety training at Culver Duck Farms, a small food processing plant in northern Indiana. Maria Loera, the safety manager at Culver, was pleased that employees from different departments – the hatchery, home barns and processing plants – were able to get on-site machine guard training.

NIU’s state-of-the-art CPE classrooms are equipped with a variety of machines common in different industries. Can you spot the guarded planer, guarded vertical drill, guarded grinder, guarded table saw and black vertical band saw that is guarded? What about the guarded food mixer, guarded food slicer, guarded food mixer, meat tenderizer and an unguarded pasta machine?

“The benefits we got out of this class are endless,” she says. “I feel like the employees who attended the class are more knowledgeable on machine guarding, the dangers of not locking out. It is amazing to have the opportunity to get this class for free to our employees. It not only educated them, but it boosted their morale to have been able to participate in a class provided by an authorized OSHA instructor.”

Guerrero encourages employers and workers to register for the free courses on the NIU Continuing and Professional Education website, or to contact NIU CPE to plan a safety training at their facility.

Guerrero and Newquist also welcome employers to share their accomplishments. “If you’ve got machines that are guarded, and you’re proud of them, send us a picture!” Newquist says. “We’ve had local companies show us their machines, and we can put them in our training sessions and give you credit for it.”

The NIU National Safety Education Center is one of 26 OSHA Training Institute Education Centers in the nation. These education centers are a national network of non-profit organizations authorized by OSHA to deliver occupational safety and health training to public and private sector workers, supervisors and employers. It is part of NIU Continuing and Professional Education, in the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development. Learn more on the NSEC blog.

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