Working towards underground utility location recognised standards

Other countries have adopted underground utility location regulations and qualifications that minimise harmful actions. New Zealand is about to follow suit.

UUL Markings 1440x700

The potential for costly, unnecessary service strikes underground in Aotearoa, New Zealand, is high and happening right now. Just one may cause significant harm to people, essential services loss to communities, and disruption to businesses.

Underground utility location is an area where other countries have adopted regulations and professional qualifications that minimise harmful actions. They follow best practice and New Zealand is about to follow suit.

To some, it may seem hard to believe that such a specialist field of work which is so critical to projects getting off the ground has no formal qualification on the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. So, it naturally happened that key industry stakeholders consulted Waihanga Ara Rau about developing a formal education pathway for people working in the profession.

A Waihanga Ara Rau Technical Advisory Group for Underground Utility Location (UUL) was established, and industry members were appointed. This group is now working with the Waihanga Ara Rau qualifications team to develop entry-level unit standards that will become part of a micro-credential for people newly joining this field. If successful, and there is wider market appeal and industry support for training and assessment, it is hoped this work will lead on to the development of new Level 4 unit standards, forming a full qualification in the future.

One member of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) is Sam Allen, GM of Locate Services and Board Member of the National Utility Locating Contractors Association (NULCA).

Sam Allen, GM Locate Services

Sam says, “I was involved in the NULCA Working Group in 2020-21 for Standards and Skills Development, and outcomes for that were for broader damage prevention. The work that was done then and the continuing work that NULCA, WorkSafe and other key stakeholders are doing in partnership really has brought to the forefront a demand for awareness of the need for consistency of practice in the profession. It’s not just about using technology to map the ground and painting some fluoro lines. There’s so much more that locators can do to minimise harm, including communicating the best way to proceed in certain situations and providing summary reports based on best practice methodology. The one thing missing is the assessment of locators against the right skill sets and practice standards – the missing link to our industry becoming regarded as qualified professionals.

“There is also work going on regarding legislation that will emphasise the importance of gathering sufficient information about underground utilities before breaking ground.

“Together these two things will mean professional location to recognised standards, which is a win-win for all. Setting up a career pathway for people working in or new to the industry is very important. There needs to be formal verification of what our teams are learning on-the-job then career seekers can clearly see the pathway to a satisfying future career in underground utility location.

“It’s all well and good having a job that could seem appealing to many people. Still, suppose they can’t see a future other than putting paint on the ground? They won’t stay in this industry. As soon as you say: ‘well, you know you can do much more in this profession and get a qualification and professional registration’, that’s a big drawcard for newcomers and much easier to market. There is a lot of variation in standards of practice around NZ and this is a risk for the industry. To address this, qualifications will support national consistency in professional practice.

“The Technical Advisory Group has met three times so far, and meetings are going very well. We’re churning through a lot of valuable details and have a good mix of people around the table with the right knowledge and skill sets to contribute. The process that Waihanga Ara Rau is facilitating is really great, and we know we can bring more people into this Group or people with different views if we need to. It’s refreshing, and I look forward to the Group’s next catch-up and some worthwhile outcomes.”