I am sure many readers have been tasked with reducing damages, but why is that so important? Damage to underground facilities by excavators is a safety issue for utility companies. Utility companies use several strategies aimed at reducing and, ultimately eliminating, damages.
With a greater focus on proactive damage prevention, a patroller program is an emerging strategy focused on cultivating a working relationship between the utility and the excavator to prevent damages. This collaboration aims to create clearer communication, greater mutual understanding, fewer delays and, most importantly, a safer workplace.
A patroller program deploys roving excavation inspectors who have been trained in safe digging excavation techniques, regulatory laws, and utility company policies. Patrollers focus on damage prevention issues; they are not construction inspectors.
Patrollers work with, and guide, the excavator’s work while they are digging near underground facilities. Patrollers will correct mistakes through issuing violations so they can be identified and targeted in communications. Reducing these violations is the key to preventing damages.
What makes a good patroller program and how can you utilize it to reduce damages?
Hiring the Right People
Patrollers are your direct contact to influence behavioral changes. They are face-to-face, seeing why the excavators work the way they do.
When you hire a patroller, a great attribute to look for is a security background. This job is not always easy; it is easier to teach the technical aspects of the job than to teach the skillset to stand your ground while maintaining a productive dialogue. Once the patroller and the excavator establish trust, a relationship begins.
If you do not capture site visit information, then you are not doing the patroller program justice.
Analyzing the right data allows you to focus on the jobs that have the greatest risk. The data will allow you to fine-tune the program and steer it in the right direction. The obvious data elements to capture are:
• Type of work
• Contractor type
• Work status
Other key data elements to capture include:
• OPERATOR – Studying this worker’s methods could show if there is a problem with a specific equipment operator rather than the excavator’s overall operation.
• WEATHER – This seems arbitrary, but it can show you if there is a work pattern with weather (e.g. rushing when it gets cloudy or hot).
• TIME – One excavator may be rushing and taking risks before lunch or another might be operating with a reduced staff in the morning and overwhelming the laborers. Knowing this allows a patroller to visit the site at the best time.
• JOB SITE RATINGS – Assigning a value to the site visit makes it easier to tackle larger problems before smaller ones.
It is important to invest in a solid program to store and analyze the data you collect. The data is more valuable if it is well-organized and easy to use. It is even better if it communicates with your ticket management system.
Even if you have other outreach programs, the patrollers are the ones who will be most successful in affecting change. Patrollers are the key to clearly communicating your message. Make sure that they are consistent in their messaging. Gear them up with the latest industry knowledge, get them involved and encourage them to get the excavator involved in industry movements.
Changing behavior is not easy. However, the more you engage the excavator and continue communication, you will find that the behavior change will follow. Running an effective patroller program will show you why damage prevention is truly a shared responsibility.
Dan FitzPatrick is a scheduled speaker at the 2021 Global Excavation Safety Conference.
Dan FitzPatrick is a Damage Prevention Field Operations Planner for Orange and Rockland Industries, Inc. Dan serves on several local and national damage prevention committees, including the Board of Directors for Dig- Safely NY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.