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Setting Up a Self Locating Program for Contractors

I often get approached by contractors who are concerned with locate timing or who are part of a dedicated locating project. They are considering setting up and performing locates for themselves. It’s a natural reaction to the challenges they have been facing over the past 5+ years. The good news is its possible to do this, but its not a simple task and it will take a considerable investment in time, people, and money.

What is Self Locating?

Simply put, instead of waiting for a contracted Locate Service Provider (LSP) to complete a locate on behalf of utility owners impacted by your project, you would perform the locates yourselves. The benefit of this is obvious, the contractor can control the speed at which they perform a locate and thus keep their drills, plows, vacs moving and minimize costly downtime. The additional upside is that a locator on a crew could be cross trained and be fully utilized on various activities when not locating.

Hurdles to Self Locating

It sounds simple – train your staff on locating and start getting the tickets and voila, self locating…not so fast. In all reality, if a contractor were serious about setting up a self locating program with no prior locating experience, I estimate it will take 8-12 months to properly do so. Lets explore some of the items that need to be covered to help understand the blueprint for getting there.

Quality Assurance Program

Locates at their core are about reducing risk and liability. So a proper QA program is required that meets the requirements of industry best practices as well as those of the major utility owners. This is complex to set up and run. It involves having QA staff, reporting, training capabilities, understanding of records and site conditions, troubleshooting, damage investigations and much more. This is one of the most important and complex aspects of being able to locate and the most important to get right.

Hiring and Training

A proficient locator has a deep understanding of how to navigate site conditions, interpret unclear records, and maximize efficiency on site without compromising safety and quality. It’s a skilled trade and there is significant liability, risk, pressure and confidence involved in locating. It takes 2-3 months minimum to get a newly trained locator even out locating in the field and then depending on the individual, its likely another 5-8 months before a new locator is reaching solid levels of proficiency. The learning curve is slow so resourcing your locating program internally requires a considerable investment as well as the ability to train and support staff in the field. The workaround for this of course is to try to hire experienced locators who can locate immediately, but these skilled tradespeople are limited on the market. There will also need to be consideration for compensation methodology, which may not align with your current construction compensation approach.  Its not just locators that will need to be hired and trained either. You will need the ability to provide supervision, dispatching, admin/billing/reporting and QA oversight. Its likely some of these activities can be shared with existing construction duties, but others will need to be added separately.

Contracts and Legal

You cannot locate anything without a contract in place with the utility owners and there are hundreds of utility owners in Ontario alone. Without a contract outlining liability, pricing and various other terms and conditions, you will be unable to gain access to their records and have One Call tickets diverted to you. Setting these up will take time and require you to be able to demonstrate to the utility owners that you have the resources, support, and capabilities to provide safe and high quality locates. The workaround for this is to subcontract through one of the major LSPs who have these contracts and systems with the utility owners already in place. Again, these LSPs will require the same level of alignment in terms of your capabilities and quality to bring you on as a subcontractor, but they will be able to get you access to self-locating more quickly if you can come to agreement with them and demonstrate you are serious about locating.

Systems and Equipment

If you get all this in place, you’ll need a way to get tickets from One Call and access records from utility owners. This will require investing in and setting up one of the many ticket software solutions on the market and being able to support it with your IT group internally. It will also require the ability to work with client software for records or to access GIS records. All of this adds costs and requires the ability to support.

Conclusion

There are many other considerations, complexities, and nuances to what has been outlined above. If you are serious about setting up a self locating program, there is a path to doing so, but its not a quick implementation. The cost benefit to having this capability internally for a contractor is significant, but it requires a longer time horizon and investment in people, clients, systems, and organizational capabilities.

Contact Enertia is you wish to discuss this in more detail or to discuss anything else related to locating or construction. Also please explore our capabilities on our website

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