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Project Heavy Duty: The Next Generation

September 1, 2017
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“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question that has vexed teenagers for generations. After all, how can you know what you want to be if you don’t know what the options are, and whether you would enjoy them? Nothing beats hands on experience to figure out the answer. That’s especially true in fields like construction and heavy equipment operation, which is why there are programs like Project Heavy Duty.

What is Project Heavy Duty?

Project Heavy Duty is an annual event held in Elkford put on by the College of the Rockies and WorkSafe BC. The event introduces students from School District #5 to what work as a heavy equipment operator is like, with equipment demonstrations, safety lessons, and a rundown of the application process and training needed to get the job.

This year’s event drew twenty four students, along with parents, school teachers, and experienced equipment operators. The day was beautiful, with bright and sunny weather. SMS Equipment employees Catherine Reed and Art Hine took part in the event as instructors. Catherine, who had taken part in previous Project Heavy Duty events, was particularly grateful for the good weather. “I have had to attend these in the rain before,” she said, “so it was great for the students and visitors to be able to enjoy the day!”

Safety First

Safety was a key focus of the event. Art Hine began the day by giving the students a frank conversation about the importance of respecting the power of the equipment. He made sure they understood that as cool as the machines were they were not to be treated as playthings but as serious equipment for serious business, capable of doing serious damage and hurt if not used correctly.

After this introduction the day consisted of twelve stations, each focused on a particular piece of equipment, which the students rotated through. Included were a JLG manlift, an articulating dump truck, a gravel truck, excavators, utility machines, mobile cranes, and log grapplers. Instructors at each station began by walking the students around the equipment, stressing the importance of being sure the equipment was in good condition before operating it. After that, the instructors showed students how to properly mount and dismount from the machines, an important step given that falls from equipment are a common and highly preventable form of workplace injury.

Following the safety orientation, students were given hands-on instruction in starting, using, and shutting down each piece of equipment. The instructors made sure that students understood the importance of planning out what they would do on the job site to maneuver and use the equipment safely. Part of the philosophy of the Project Heavy Duty event is that it is vital to install a sense of safety, long before the students enter the workforce, to prevent future accidents.

As a special feature, the College of the Rockies brought their Haul Truck Simulator to the event. Set up like an arcade game, the unit uses wrap around video screens to simulate the view from truck cabin of those behemoth pieces of equipment complete with realistic controls. In the simulator, students drove through a realistic virtual mine site, complete with varying road conditions and adverse weather, to perform a variety of hauling tasks. The same unit is used by the College as part of its Haul Truck Operator Program.

Catherine Reed, an SMS Equipment Occupational Health and Safety Expert, was on hand to inform the students about the career path to becoming a heavy equipment operator. She let them know about the certification that is required, how the application process works, and what to expect during an interview. She said that many students came away from the event interested in pursuing careers in heavy equipment operation. A few were already at work on their trade pre-applications, and a few had quite a lot of experience already!

A big believer in developing future heavy equipment talent, SMS Equipment has been involved with Project Heavy Duty for the past six years. In addition to the time of its personnel, much of the equipment came from the company’s stores. The event also serves as a means for SMS Equipment to give back to the communities in which we live and work.