Free online training course aims to reduce underground utility strikes and dangers due to soil collapse

From left to right: Erin Rodger, SCGA Public Awareness and Education Committee chair; Natalya Uchacz, chief operations officer, Heavy Construction Safety Association of Saskatchewan; Eli Sorenson, youth ambassador; Bret Dielschnieder, safety advisor, Wappel Construction; Derrick Mann, SCGA president; Ryan Jacobson, CEO, Saskatchewan Safety Council.

“Youth is our future.” Is this just another tired cliché? Or is it something that many people take to heart?

For the Saskatchewan Safety Council (SSC), the Saskatchewan Common Ground Alliance (SCGA) and the Heavy Construction Safety Association of Saskatchewan (HCSAS), that phrase isn’t just empty words. It is a call to action that merited a united response during a special media event on July 15.

On that day at a Wappel Construction site in Regina, the three partners launched what is believed to be a North American first: a free online construction safety program aimed at youth aged 14 to 21.  

The “Ground Disturbance for Saskatchewan Workers” training initiative, available on the SSC website, will promote safe working practices to future young employees.

For SSC President Ryan Jacobson, the initiative is a game changer, especially in a larger and more sparsely populated province like Saskatchewan.

“Everyone that works in a ground disturbance industry, whether it be agriculture, landscaping, construction or road building, needs access to basic best practices to work safely,” said Jacobson. Citing the unique industry-created online course, he added that it provides a way “to get all those trained in rural Saskatchewan that may not have training agencies close at hand.”

If the participant passes the two-hour online course they will receive a recognized safety construction certificate, immediately downloadable upon completion. The program is a key component in the SSC’s Career Safety Education Program, which has been designed by industry experts to address the most common injuries to new workers in their respective fields.

SCGA President Derrick Mann said evidence shows injuries happen during complex construction work but also during more routine situations. 

Canada incurs $1 billion in underground facility damage annually. But Mann said the biggest issue remains eliminating the risk of personal injury and even death. These incidents are preventable with the right safety mindset.

“Developing safety habits when one is young produces a lifetime of benefits,” he added.

Youth ambassador Eli Sorenson sees the new program as evidence of industry’s commitment to worker health and safety.

Construction activity in Saskatchewan has remained at historically high levels, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 151,282 requests for line locates in 2020, a close to seven per cent increase from the previous year, and about 700 contacts with underground facilities in 2019. 

The new online ground disturbance course puts the industry “one step closer to being able to create that safety culture, that safety behaviour, right on site,” said Natalya Uchacz, chief operations officer at the HCSAS. “When we are able to start right at the beginning with our youth and help them become informed before they actually go into a construction site . . .  then overall we will have a safer industry.”

The three partners are confident this training can reduce the incidence of underground utility infrastructure strikes or soil collapse. The course includes content such as ground disturbance and hazards assessment, reporting damage and line locating, daylighting, control zones, colour codes, soil conditions and emergency assessment, among other things.

“Developing safety habits when one is young produces a lifetime of benefits.”

– Derrick Mann, SCGA president

Young workers and those new to jobs that work in soil, who are pursuing careers in agriculture, heavy construction, residential construction, landscaping or with companies that provide services to utility companies are encouraged to complete this free training course.

For Eli Sorenson, a young field worker, the course is the kind of encouraging development that shows the industry is committed to the health and well-being of its workers, in addition to providing competitive pay and a good working environment.

“As a person with my whole life and career in front of me, I want to work in a place where they take safety seriously,” Sorenson said at the media event in July.

That’s exactly the type of environment these three partners want to create in every construction workplace. They want to prove that working safely, much like investing in our youth, is definitely more than a cliché.  

Shannon Doka is the executive director of the Saskatchewan Common Ground Alliance (SCGA).