Digger’s Guide to Safe Bone Burying

We must strive to make the formal education of our children inclusive of
occupational health and safety, including ground disturbance and damage prevention elements. The staggeringly sad number of fatalities and injuries and the resultant significant negative financial impact to society continue, yet safe work habits are not formally taught to our youth before they join the workforce. Young, new and inexperienced workers are at a disadvantage when it comes to worksite hazards. Statistically, young people and new hires are at higher risk of injury at work. Among injured workers under the age of 25, more than 50% of them were hurt in the first six months at work. Nearly 20% of those injuries and fatalities happen during the first month at work. We must improve the education and training of our emerging workforce before they start working. When the recent introduction of voluntary reporting of ground disturbance and excavation activities is correlated to an algorithm that quantifies the societal financial impact of these incidents, we can see that these incidents translate into billions of lost dollars and productivity annually.

Neuroscientists are learning that the part of the brain involved with making sound judgments and controlling emotions is the last part of the brain to mature. The result is emotion-based judgment by our youth through their 20s, with rational risk management
processes not fully developing until their late 20s and into their 30s. This results in the
need to inculcate safety lessons focusing on the 15-24 years of age workforce at every opportunity.  We must do by education what evolution has developmentally delayed until long after they enter the workforce.

With the advances in technology and increased mainstream usage of the internet by our younger generations, it is imperative that we adjust our methodologies to meet this shift in the way they communicate and in the way that they learn. Teens today are the first generation to grow up with unlimited access to online technology. According
to research, teens spend, on average, almost as much time doing school work online (2.9
hrs.) as they do offline (3.4 hrs.). Social media and texting have changed the face of interpersonal communication. 86% of teens use a search engine, 79% visit sites like YouTube, and 69% visit online social networks. Daily, teens mostly use texting (54%) and online social networking (48%) to communicate.

Focusing on our emerging workforce, the 15-24-year-old student, we have been working
with teachers to provide students with online courseware that will positively impact and eventually reduce the number of fatalities and lost time injuries suffered by this group at work. Safety in Schools is focused on providing industry-recognized online occupational health and safety courses to more than 250 high schools in Alberta, with more than 63,000 courses completed to an 80%+ pass level by high school students in grades 10-12. This year, we have undertaken an effort to reach even younger students, starting with a pilot project aimed at public school pupils 9-12 years of age.

Following a series of focus groups involving these children, we learned that they were not interested in passive video watching as a learning tool; rather, they were intrigued by interactive game learning. Recognizing that this attention-attracting methodology could have positive results, we undertook development of lessons combining the technologies available with the content previously conveyed through instructor/teacher-led training. The result has been the development of an interactive animated course entitled “Digger’s Guide to Safe Bone Burying.” This online interactive training course takes the previously
developed concepts of ground disturbance training and buried infrastructure knowledge from workbooks and coloring books to the internet. It is provided online to students, and therefore has no barriers to accessing content at any time. We are attempting to get these students engaged in safety and damage prevention learning through their preferred manner of interaction – the internet.

This animated course leads directly into higher, more complex concepts in our course
“The Hole You Dig,” focusing on the societal impact of ground disturbance and the staggering financial impact these incidents create. Ask any teen what they cannot be without and the answer most often is “internet access.” These courses fit within the mandate and goals of the Common Ground Alliance and the Canadian Common Ground Alliance, and share the philosophy that damage prevention is a shared responsibility.

In summary, we currently do not include ground disturbance, excavation or damage prevention in the formal education of our children. Neurologically, they are not prepared to exercise risk management until they are in their late 20s and early 30s. Technology is the most significant part of their communications and learning going
forward. Therefore, we need to:

• Include damage prevention and occupational safety education as a mandatory part of curriculum at all levels, starting in public school
• Adopt online interactive gaming as part of the normal, mainstream methodology of instruction to our children
• Reinforce occupational health and safety processes and culture during our youths’ first few years in the workforce – at every opportunity and in the way they communicate today

The earlier we introduce this process to our children, the greater success we collectively will attain. By fulfilling through education what evolution has delayed – the risk management skills needed in life – all industries involved in excavation and ground disturbance will benefit.

The Safety in Schools Foundation of Canada focuses on developing safety as a culture in the next generation of workers. We provide online, curriculum aligned, industry accredited safety training to high school students in Western Canada. This has been made possible through the continued support of TransCanada Pipelines, the Alberta Common
Ground Alliance, the Alberta Government, and our founding partners ComplyWorks Ltd. and Gemini Performance Solutions. Together, we help our youth develop the risk management knowledge and skills required to avoid injury before they join the workforce.


Ross Wickware is Managing Director for Safety in Schools Foundation of Canada. He can be reached at rossw@safetyinschools.ca. For more information on this program, visit www.safetyinschools.ca.


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