Montana Tech students prepare to compete in Safety Olympics in Oklahoma for the first time


Montana Technological University will send eight students to the 2024 Safety Olympics from Feb. 29- March 1 at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, Oklahoma.

This is Montana Tech’s first time competing in the annual event requiring participants to exhibit their skills in occupational health, safety, and industrial hygiene through a series of challenges. This year’s competitors include Collin College, College of the Mainland, Pittsburg State University, Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and the University of Central Missouri.

“It’s a cool experience to be able to compete as safety majors,” senior Megan Benton of Billings, said. “You often see competitions for engineering or construction students, but you don’t see a lot of competitions for us. It’s nice to put everything we’ve been learning for four years into practice in an almost real-life situation.”

The competition requires students to complete a project that addresses any one of the 21 research priorities set by the National Occupational Research Agenda. Montana Tech’s team is building on a master’s project completed by a previous graduate student that tackled the problem of fit testing N-95 masks when they are in short supply. Safety standards state that N-95 masks must be fit-checked at least once per year to make sure they seal to the user’s face. However, the fit check process requires poking a hole in the mask to perform the test. This means that the mask used to perform the test cannot be used. This became an issue when N-95 masks were in short supply in the pandemic. For the Safety Olympics, Montana Tech students tested different materials like beeswax, metal, etc., that could be used to try to close the plug and possibly re-seal the mask so it would be usable after the test.

Benton was excited about presenting the team’s ideas and findings, and for a part of a competition that focuses on preparing a safety culture plan and presenting it in a boardroom situation.

“This part of the competition goes along with my skillset well,” Benton said.

Teammate Charles Carriker, a senior from Olympia, Washington, is more interested in the incident investigation, where students are given a mock incident, and have to investigate to figure out where things went wrong and identify the underlying cause.

“It’s an interesting way to get a hands-on application,” Carriker said. “It’s not entirely a real-world situation, but it’s a perfect simulation of it.”

Participants will also be challenged to walk through a warehouse created in virtual reality goggles with visible safety violations. They will be asked to identify hazards.

Students will also have a chance to play Safety Jeopardy.

“These are questions safety professionals would have to answer if they were testing for their Certified Safety Professional designation,” Associate Professor Lorri Birkenbuel said.

A career fair will be held to connect participants with employers as well.

The team will fly out of Montana on Feb. 28. They are still seeking sponsorships to help defray the costs of competition. To contribute and learn more, click here.

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