How Groundforce Training made their Utility Excavations scheme a success
Groundforce Training removes obstacles to training for the safety of individuals in the workforce
“We’re looking to train as many people in the industry who either use excavation equipment or hire this equipment” says Groundforce Training Manager Chris Gearren, who started in his role in 2015.
“That’s essentially to make sure they don’t get buried alive, injured, or killed using the equipment.”
Groundforce Training is approaching their tenth year as a business, after being set up as an entity within market-leading excavation support and shoring equipment providers, Groundforce, part of Vp plc.
In that time, they have trained thousands of individuals every year using the Energy & Utility Skills Register (EUSR) Utility Excavations scheme.
What is Utility Excavations?
The scheme, created by Energy & Utility Skills, consists of five categories.
Each specialises in a different aspect of excavations – locating utility services like pipes and cabling (Category 1); implementing safe practices (Category 2); and installing, inspecting, and removing timber, steel, and proprietary support systems (Categories 3-5).
The scheme is recognised by CITB for short-course duration funding purposes.
Completion of Utility Excavations results in an EUSR registration which is valid for three years.
Right time, right place
Historically, take-up for training in excavations was quite low, in part because existing training programmes had a high time investment (four or five days) and were not offered widely in terms of location.
Chris said “Our research shows us that the vast majority of those working within industry, although carrying out tasks in or around excavations, sadly don’t hold a formal qualification for installing, inspecting and removing shoring systems.
“Part of the mindset around it is that we can’t take people off site for five days. By having a two-day course in Utility Excavations, if they are going to make the investment, at least they’re only out of the job for a couple of days.”
Groundforce Training offers Utility Excavations across multiple locations, through their partnerships with training providers operating out of around 17 training centres across the country, as well as the option of going to a customer’s site.
Leading horses to water
There is technically no legal requirement for an individual to have received training before taking part in excavations work.
However, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 specifically states that employers are required to provide “such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees.”
Despite this, encouraging some companies and individuals to undertake excavations courses has sometimes been difficult.
Some managing directors feel they do not need to provide their workers with the qualifications because they consider it an area they are already specialists in – an attitude which has been particularly common in civil engineering companies, or with managing directors who started their careers “on the tools”.
Others see it as an unnecessary cost. According to Chris, “Tier one contractors are what really dictates whether people go on training courses.”
Over the years, Groundforce Training has gradually been changing mindsets, which they are able to do successfully from the unique position they hold within the industry.
We have a hire business where companies hiring out the necessary temporary works and equipment to protect their workforce. These companies are our target market as recognised training qualifications for shoring systems installations, inspections, and removals is often missing” Chris explained.
Much of their business now comes in through word-of-mouth, with satisfied customers referring other businesses to Groundforce Training directly.
“You know, bizarrely, there are people that don’t hire the equipment through us, but they do train through us.
“I think it’s one of those things, when you get a good reputation in the industry, they just trickle your way, don’t they?”
Doing the right thing
Chris believes that accountability is a key part of what contributed towards the positive sentiment that Groundforce Training now receives, as well as having a cadre of committed trainers delivering courses like Utility Excavations.
“For our trainers, Utility Excavations is our core training course – the core is categories 3, 4, and 5. Everything else branches off from there for us.
“So, all the trainers are committed. That’s what they do. That’s what they’re trained to do.
“We spend three to four months, when we bring a new trainer into the business, training them before we release them out to the field on this particular course.”
Underlying a lot of Groundforce Training’s work with promoting and delivering Utility Excavations has been a dedication towards making the workforce safer.
A large part of the challenge has been changing minds – encouraging organisation leaders to acknowledge that the training is necessary, and making it accessible to them.
One such underlying presumption was that training in installing shoring equipment was only really necessary for so-called deep excavations, defined as any trench deeper than 1.2 metres.
According to Chris, “More people are dying in shallow excavations, you know, people were really hung up on depth.
“At one time everybody was adhering to this 1.2 metre rule, meaning they didn’t really put any shoring systems in the ground or assess the situation properly until they got to a depth of 1.2 metres.
“But you can easily die in an excavation that is one metre deep, or get buried alive in that excavation.
“I think it was helpful that Energy & Utility Skills stopped using that term deep excavation, and went down this Utility Excavations scheme methodology of install, inspect, and remove for various different shoring systems.
“That helped me to re-educate people as well.”
Water Industry Training Organisation of the Year
In October 2022, Groundforce Training won the Water Industry Training Organisation of the Year Award at the Institute of Water President’s Dinner.
The judging panel felt they proactively and passionately championed the provision of training in the water and wastewater sector, and attained a high level of respect among their peers and stakeholders.
The nomination is glowing, with feedback from organisations such as Clancy Docwra praising Groundforce’s trainers’ “clear, focused, and consistent commitment to working with and continuously improving the skills of Clancy Group employees”.
J Browne Construction cited them as “an essential supplier to our business… They help us ensure our staff are competent, capable and compliant when working on key sector projects for Thames, Affinity, Southern and South East Water.”
About the award, Chris said “It was great to be recognized by the industry for the hard work that we put in over seven years.
“We entered because we wanted to win something that was very meaningful; that was nationwide and industry led.
“It was good to get that recognition.”