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Mountain Safety for Industry - What certifications make the best mountain safety technician?

The mountain environment can add many challenges to an industrial work site. There are environmental factors such as extreme weather that can change rapidly in less than a moments notice.  Terrain difficulties can include steep slopes, cliffs, boulder fields, canyons,and loose scree slopes. There can be glaciers, crevasses, and avalanche terrain. These hazards can be singular but are often compound. To safely manage or mitigate these hazards, a Mountain Safety Technician (MST) requires a full complement of skills, training and certification as well as CPD (continuing professional development) in order to keep current with a forever evolving industry. This makes for a well rounded Mountain Safety Technician and risk management professional.

Certification must be varied, derived and amalgamated from a variety of industries. MST’s need to be adept at travelling in mountain terrain and must be comfortable in all seasons.

A background in professional Mountain Guiding is the first step in establishing solid fundamentals for work activities in mountainous terrain. National guides associations like the ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) and the AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) offers the most comprehensive training and certification program. Operating under the umbrella of the IFMGA(International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) they are committed to upholding the highest standard of education for people travelling in and managing risk in mountain work sites. Mountain Guides hold the highest internationally recognized qualification for instruction and guiding in mountaineering and mountain winter travel - the coveted IFMGA badge. This badge, recognized throughout the mountain world, is a guarantee of professional training and competence in all aspects of mountaineering and client care.

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Traditionally Mountain Guides were trained for tourism purposes, in order to guide clients who possessed the desire to recreate in the mountain environment but lacked the necessary skills to do so safely. These skills,more recently, are being directly applied by Global Mountain Solutions to industrial work sites where terrain challenges are present.

A strong knowledge of working with ropes in a variety of situations is an integral skill for a MST. Ropes can be used to safely access and egress areas or terrain where other measures would prove more difficult, cumbersome, costly and possibly increase hazard.

The Society of Professional Rope Access Technicians (SPRAT) and the International Rope Access Training Society (IRATA)  provide training and certification courses for people working with ropes in an industrial setting. Both programs require a substantial time commitment to work through and obtain certification. After completing the level 1 Rope Access Technician certification and accumulating many hours of work experience a skilled and motivated technician may seek higher levels of certification eventually obtaining the level 3. This qualifies them to oversee and supervise a rope access job site.

Avalanches are a substantial hazard in mountainous terrain, as snow can arrive early and often linger late into the year especially at higher elevations.  The Canadian Avalanche Association (CAA)  offers a variety of courses that are requisite for work safety in avalanche terrain.  A MST working in avalanche terrain must have an Operations level 1 certification at a minimum.Those seeking a greater role in avalanche safety programs will possess an Operations level 2 certification and likely professional membership with the CAA. After working in an avalanche forecasting role and gaining substantial work experience in avalanche terrain the Operations level 3 certification offers another level to achieve.

Strong first-aid skills are essential to the Mountain Safety Technician. There are numerous options when it comes to first aid certification but a MST will possess at a minimum an advanced level course requiring a minimum 80hrs to complete and requiring regular recertification.They will also possess current CPR which must be recertified annually. Wilderness first aid or occupational first aid courses are a great starting point. Those looking to develop a more comprehensive or prehospital background should look into the Emergency Medical Responder.  

A big challenge when working in difficult or mountain terrain is having the ability to extract injured workers if necessary. GMS hires MST’s with the advanced skill sets required to perform extraction from difficult terrain. HETS or CDFL is a highly effective and efficient rescue tool used globally as a means of extracting injured parties from difficult spots. It involves the use of a longline suspended below a helicopter to insert and extract rescuers and patients. A high level of training and knowledge is required.

Rigging for Rescue is another course and certification that trains advanced emergency response involving the use of technical rope systems for moving people through terrain.

Industry is quickly catching on to the value of MST’s. For example the CAGC (Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors) whose members drive much of the oil and gas exploration in North America have developed Best Practices which include the use of people trained in much of what is listed above in their terrain assessment guidelines.

Although this list of skills seems long, those that are successful as Mountain Safety Technicians are committed to a lifetime of learning and that is what makes this such a unique industry. Seeking quality mentorship and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and high level of fitness are equally as important as any of the certifications listed above.

It is an exciting job as you never know what corner of the world you may end up in and what type of job will be waiting for you next…


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