Same Goal, Different Approaches in International Locator Training

Organizations and individuals working to make the industry safer are moving toward a standardization of the under-ground facility locator trade. Stakeholders in Canada, Australia and the United States are actively involved in developing some sort of certification, whether through the industry, trade associations or government entities. Different approaches can be means to the same end; providing proof of a locator’s training and competence. Different groups of stakeholders can take the lead in making this a reality. When we take a look at developments in these three countries, we begin to see just how effective varied approaches can be.

According to the Canadian Association of Pipeline and Utility Locating Contractors’ (CAPULC), website, “currently, there is no governing body which sets the standards, or develops or controls the existing curriculum for consistency purposes for UFL [Underground Facility Locator] training in Alberta.” The benefits of such certification are many-fold. A certification as a knowledgeable locator is a professional boost to locators, who can expect to be preferred over non-certified locators. They will have a deeper understanding of the safety and accurate locating which protects the owner of the underground facilities, the field worker and the public from the risk of damage, injury, or worse caused by an inaccurate locate. CAPULC is making a concerted effort to have utility locating given status as a designated occupation. Designated occupations recognize skills and competencies achieved either through on-the-job training or
formal training provided by the industry. This is different from designated trades which have apprenticeship  programs with compulsory or optional certification. For this reason, certified locators would have an advantage in hiring by companies that make it a requirement.

The Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA), with contributions from the Province of Ontario, Humbar College and many experts, has created a DPT Certification Program. ORCGA represents a wide array of stakeholders in damage prevention, from locators and excavators to facility owners. DPT stands for Damage Prevention  Technician. This is a program that provides in-class instruction, a field awareness review and on-the-job competency
assessment. The locator’s employer evaluates them and gives the endorsement for the on-the-job assessment. This comprehensive program acknowledges the important training and amassed body of knowledge of certified DP technicians. This assures homeowners and business owners are in the hands of a well-trained locator when they hire a certified locator. By setting a standard, this Canadian organization is taking a stand for damage prevention and for
a future where certification is the norm.

Australia is taking a different approach. The organization DBYD, or Dial Before You Dig, is a national organization which has, over the years, developed their own certification program. They do not provide the training. Instead, they work with other providers who do so. They do run a rigorous process for certification of acquired skill and knowledge. The program begins with a self-assessment. This part of the process is important because certification costs money, roughly $1,195 AUD or about $900 USD, and an accurate self-assessment allows locators to pre-test themselves to check their areas of knowledge before proceeding with the actual testing. This part of the assessment is free.

The locator can then continue with the theory assessment which takes at least 45 minutes to complete. According to Dial Before You Dig’s website “the theory component of the exam covers a wide variety of locating techniques that would be carried out by experienced locators.” The locator is given two chances to pass this testing. If they fail twice, they are sent a notice encouraging them to seek additional training before trying again. There is additional cost for
these further attempts.

If the locator passes the theory assessment testing, they can then schedule a practical assessment. The practical assessment is more costly and requires a field assessor to meet with the locator at an agreed upon field location. Upon successful completion of the examination they receive their certification as a DBYD locator.

The process of creating this certification began in 2012, when, in consultation with the Queensland Department of Employment and Training, DBYD created the Course Development Advisory Committee to oversee the process. When the government certification process stalled, DBYD met with Australia’s largest telecommunications company (Telstra) and decide to take on the certification process themselves. A working committee of a variety of stakeholders
and training organizations developed the assessment which was tested in Queensland as a pilot program in 2015 and rolled out nationally in 2016. Now, through certification, locators can have earned recognition for their skills and knowledge.

As of 2016, the US offers a national certification program, developed and launched by Nulca, an association of under-ground utility locate professionals. Prior to this there was no national certification for underground facility locators, although there are a number of federal certifications that a locator can obtain in an effort to become a safe locate
technician. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does provide safety guidelines in the event that an underground utility is damaged, including Confined Space Entry, Competent Person, and Hazmat training, they do not have an underground locator apprenticeship as of this writing.

In the US, each state determines its own laws for digging and excavation, often referred to as the One Call law. Sometimes individual towns and cities will also have requirements. In the absence of a federal program, locate companies have tried to tailor their employee training to be in line with the state and local regulations. Different schools offer training and certifications. Generally, these courses cover locating theory and also field training. While
there is no government-mandated national standard to follow, these certifications usually follow the Nulca Competence Standard which has been the accepted national standard since 1996, and provides students with training for locating buried facilities.

The new Nulca program focuses not on individual locators, but rather accredits the training program itself so the company can certify its locators. This assures employers the locators they hire or send for training are getting an education that meets a recognized standard of industry best practices. Reviewing of the training program prior to
certification is done independently by a third party, NSF International Strategic Registrations. This international
organization is tasked with writing the standards, and provides testing and certification. Nulca believe this third party review is essential for an objective testing process.

These are just three of the many creative approaches used to address the challenge of developing a certification program. Each is suited to the particular needs of the country or region in which it is located. Different organizations of stakeholders, in different countries, all chose to come together to move toward some form of national certification for underground utility locating.

By looking at the situation faced in their own country, organizations of the underground utility locators, damage prevention call centers, and other stakeholders, certification is recognized as an important goal across these three countries. The following websites provide more detailed information on these programs: http://dbydqld.com.au, https:// nulca.org/, http://capulc.ca/.

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