The Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) has launched a new training program and revived another that was forced onto the back burner because of the pandemic.
ORCGA president and CEO Douglas Lapp told members attending the alliance’s Dig Safe Workshop series presented online over six days in March that the new Safe Excavating Practices (SEP) training program is now ready for presentation after much planning, intense development and refinement with focus groups during the last year.
The new program complements the Damage Prevention Technician (DPT) program that has been offered since the ORCGA’s inception 18 years ago.
“It’s exciting to have the Safe Excavating Practices training ready. I have talked about this at previous meetings, but the program has been completed,” Lapp announced at the March 18 session. “It’s gone through its whole development phase during the pandemic, although we still never really met the training developers, because all of this was done online.”
Given the limitations of the pandemic, the ORCGA decided to host the half-day Dig Safe workshops this year instead of its regular convention. Workshop topics included excavation safety and regulatory compliance, presented by the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development; a Ministry of the Environment session on excess soils regulation; an Ontario One Call update session; and a powerline safety workshop presented by the Electrical Safety Authority.
The DPT program is normally in high demand and run in winter and early spring but the inception of the pandemic last year caused cancellations, Lapp explained. It was relaunched in the summer with smaller groups but was shut down again in the fall. The program was finally reintroduced in March.
“There is still a demand and we will run the program as long as we are able,” Lapp said.
As for the new SEP session, Lapp explained, “The membership and our board felt there was a gap in what was available for training, when you’re digging around and excavating around buried utilities.”
The program has been developed as a half-day in-class session, but a virtual instructor-led training model has also been developed.
Targeted participants include machine operators and workers, managers and supervisors. The curriculum is modelled after the SEP best practices manual.
Content will include instruction on such topics as what constitutes a ground marking; steps to take with facility damage; hazards and risks associated with digging near different conduits such as fibre, hydro cables, gas pipelines and watermains; hand digging technologies and trenchless technologies; and reading a locate form.
“We have a lot of content dedicated to how to read a locate form, this was something that was very important to the members and the board, feeling that a lot of people see the locate forms and there’s a lot of paper that can be very confusing,” Lapp explained.
Train the Trainer programs have been finalized and the program is now ready to launch, with start-up dates not yet available.
Lapp also outlined findings from the 2021 Dirt (Damage Information Reporting Tool) Report, which the ORCGA scrambled to pull together during the pandemic.
In every measurable category, Lapp said — notification volumes, inbound locate requests, outbound notifications, damage events by area, no-locate damage events, infrastructure reports, root causes of damages, and locating and notification issues — the 2021 report revealed the gap in excavation work created by the pandemic last year. Notifications sent out by Ontario One Call dropped by approximately half a million last year.
The problem with that, Lapp noted, is that the ORCGA is looking to measure successes in awareness programs and now the trend statistics will be skewed by the 2020 data.
New this year was reporting sought by the ORCGA’s records, reporting and evaluation committee, to document the late locate issue in Ontario.
“This was very chronic in 2019 and it eased off a bit in 2020 primarily due to the delay in construction activity due to the pandemic last year,” Lapp said. “Again, this is the first year of collecting this data so we expect it will improve, but at least we do have some data to start from. So hopefully this will evolve and give us some better trends to analyze in the future.”
As for ORCGA activities, the 2021 symposium was held earlier this year in virtual format with 12 papers submitted, awards presented and 227 delegates participating. The ORCGA Locate Rodeo and Excavator Challenge event scheduled for Waterloo in August has not yet been cancelled but organizers are monitoring the pandemic to determine if it will proceed.
Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.