Virtual Reality

Barry Kozdrowski takes backhoe training online

Barry Kozdrowski has been operating a backhoe for over two decades.

The better part of those 23 years in the heavy equipment operating business have been spent in the pipeline industry, digging ditches for oil and gas infrastructure near the cities of Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, British Columbia and around his hometown of Fox Creek, Alberta.

Kozdrowski has learned a few tricks along the way.

"Not that many people really interested in learning anymore," he said.

"Things are a lot more fast-paced now," he continued. "Nobody seems to want to take the time to train anybody anymore. They expect the guys to know what they're doing when they get out there.

"And back when I was learning, you used to be able to sit on the hoe with the operator and, as he was digging, he could describe exactly what he was doing and tell you the reasons why. And you got the view from the cab and everything."

Kozdrowski said it was a great method of learning the trade, but changes in safety regulations in recent years have taken the students off the equipment and left them standing on the ground.

"Which is better, of course," he added, admitting the health and safety benefits of the new rules.

However, it has also made it harder to explain nuances of the work.

"They have to stand on the ground," Kozdrowski said of the students. "And you do something. And then you have to stop and explain why. It makes it a little more difficult."

Kozdrowski stumbled onto a solution to the problem last winter thanks in part to his younger brother, a fellow backhoe operator.

"He hasn't dug a lot of ditch," Kozdrowski said of his sibling.

As a result, the pair don't often work on the same job, where the older Kozdrowski would be able to share the lessons of 23 years in the patch. So, Kozdrowski decided he would make a few instructional videos for his brother instead.

"It's tough to email big videos," he said, explaining how his tutorials first found their way onto the Internet.

When a few of the younger operators at work began asking Kozdrowski for tips, he simply pointed them toward the online videos.

"They started watching them and they started following the tips," said Kozdrowski.

"And their ditch started getting pretty good," he added.

"All they needed was a little coaching."

Kozdrowski has produced about 40 videos at this point, just filming with his cell phone, held to the front window of the cab by a suction cup, and describing the work as he goes along.

The videos have had about 32,000 views overall and his YouTube channel has 85 subscribers. One foreman, an industry friend, has told Kozdrowski that he has all his hoe operators watch the videos.

"It seems like the younger guys really appreciate the help," he said.

It could ultimately be a good solution to something of a Catch-22 where students are no longer permitted to learn from riding in the cab of the backhoe due to safety concerns, but shoddy work by backhoe operators can also put other workers at risk.

"Just knowing the basic way to dig a proper bell hole and make it safe for people to get in," said Kozdrowski, offering just one example.

"And that's a huge thing," he continued. "I come across it all the time. I'll come up to a bell hole somebody dug and it will be basically straight-walled. And a lot of times I'll have to re-dig it just to make it safe for people to go in.

"The foreman will come and say, 'Oh, this young guy didn't do a very good job on the bell hole. You'll have to re-dig it.'"

Some of the lessons Kozdrowski includes in his videos have taken him almost his whole career to learn.

"Eventually," said Kozdrowski, "I'd like to show every trick that I know."

@ Copyright Pipeline News North