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ADSC, NAIT preparing drill rig operator certification

By Heather Hudson

Some call it a safety blind spot in the drilling industry. Others accept the status quo.

Kevin Sharp is more blunt.

“To operate a fork lift, zoom boom or skid steer, you need a safety ticket. But when it comes to using a $2-million drill rig, there’s no ticket required. The fact that you don’t need a ticket to run a 200-ton piece of equipment doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The owner of Sharp’s Construction and president of the Western Canadian Chapter of the International Associ-ation of Foundation Drilling (ADSC – IAFD) is doing something about it.

“There has been significant damage to equipment and people severely hurt in our industry,” said Sharp. “I think with proper education and guidance we can get better operators.”

Two years ago, Sharp contacted the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), the largest apprenticeship training education centre in Canada. It wasn’t long before the ASDC Western Canadian Chapter and NAIT were signing a contract to create a drill rig operator education program. Ultimately, drill rig operators will require training and certification in order to use the machines. There will be a process for grandfathering certification for experienced operators.

The first step was inviting representatives from the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training (AIT) board and members of the Western Canada Chapter of the ADSC.

“We had 30 members attend from our chapter of the ADSC alone. All the major drilling players were there, as well as a lot of the drill rig manufacturers and suppliers,” said Sharp.

If NAIT and AIT needed an indication that the industry was ready, they had it.

“It showed support for the need for formalized training,” said Sharp.

They envision a two-year distance learning education program comprising of eight modules and roughly 400 hours. In order to be accepted, students must meet guidelines, including having worked a minimum of 450 hours in the industry as a front-end worker or small drill rig operator (first year) and 1,000 hours (second year). Each student will also need a mentor in the industry to verify that the goals of the program are being met.

Sharp says the program will be available to everyone, including high school kids just graduating – as long as they begin achieving their 400 hours.

“Parents want to see their kids get into a trade that is recognized and safe, so I think [the certification] will help us when we go to school job fairs,” said Sharp.

When it comes to more experienced drill rig operators, Sharp expects getting their certification won’t be an arduous task.

“We’re following the lead of the crane operator certification back in 1983. We’re going to set the standard of what operators will be grandfathered into the ticket,” he said. “They’ll apply through their companies and may need to take an online training course and a few other things to become mentors of the students.”

Sharp says the program is set up to be global so operators in the U.S. and elsewhere can also take advantage of it. With course outlines complete, they’ve engaged subject matter experts to begin creating course outlines and build a program. They hope to begin the first session next September.

“NAIT just bought 165 acres west of Edmonton to move their crane operators program out there in anticipation of the drill rig program,” said Sharp.

Judging by the response of the industry to the idea of a certification program, Sharp expects it to be well received.

“The Suncors, Syncrudes, PCLs and other big contractors that see these guys coming on to sites every day will really appreciate knowing there is a standard, he said. “I truly believe it will become a standard that will be required if you want to bid on projects and be on these guys’ sites.

“In western Canada we are being proactive and are driving the ship when it comes to certification. This is a very different approach than [the certification process] in Ontario, where it’s being [pushed] by government.”

What’s new in the Western Canadian Chapter of ADSC

The Western Canadian Chapter is relatively new to the American-based ADSC, which was formed in 1957. Brenda Caron from Control Chemical Corp. initiated the incorporation of the Western Canadian Chapter as a non-profit organization. The first organizational meeting was in October 2012, the first education seminar was in February 2013 and the first Western Canadian AGM was in May of 2013.

“We felt that Western Canada needed a chapter to deal with our localized issues as they relate to drilled shaft foundations, micropiles and anchored earth retention systems. We do pile driving and all sorts of other foundations and are getting pushed to look at more of them, but those three disciplines are our foundation,” said Sharp, who is the current president of the chapter.

Membership is comprised of contractors and suppliers in the industry. The chapter’s mandate is to foster growth in the three disciplines and educate and inform engineers and owners on the advantages of what the industry has to offer.

Typically, the chapter holds one safety seminar each year in September in the greater Edmonton area, an education seminar in February in the Calgary area and an AGM which features keynote speakers in May in the Victoria or Vancouver areas.

“We try to move it around, but it seems like most of us are in Alberta or B.C.,” said Sharp.

Currently, the chapter has approximately 50 members. Along with the NAIT contract to build a drill rig operators education program, they’re also in talks with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) to begin developing a CSA standard for the safe installation of drilled shafts.

Sharp says they are always looking for new members. Benefits include networking opportunities, access to the national organization technical libraries, seminars, training and more.

“Membership opens you up to training and information programs here and in the U.S. and offers resources available at a national level,” he said. “I’ve found that being in a trade organization with your peers is beneficial.” 

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Photos courtesy of Sharp’s Construction

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Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.