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Herbicide Program Oversight

June 14, 2016
What are your expectations for the herbicide program? Are these expectations explicit? Is there a rational foundation for these expectations – that is, are they realistic?

Back in my days as a distribution utility forester for TransAlta Utilities, I had responsibility for our herbicide program. The herbicide work was contracted out and the contractors were given a list of approved herbicides along with the required degree of control of target stems for each herbicide. The degree of control was not some arbitrary number such as 100% but a lesser amount that was established through research.

What are your expectations for the herbicide program? Are these expectations explicit? Is there a rational foundation for these expectations – that is, are they realistic?

Who’s in charge here

Over my career I’ve encountered situations where utility personnel were upset because the herbicide program did not provide 100% control and other cases where the utility allowed the contractor to choose the herbicide and application method and essentially accepted whatever results were provided. The first scenario is unrealistic and bound to create friction and bad relations with the contractors. The second scenario hands over management of the VM program to the contractors.

Also having managed a VM contracting company I can tell you when there are no explicit expectations it can be both good and bad. On the one hand it lets you be creative in the bidding process. You may get away with supplying a minimal product or service as for some utilities price outweighs all other metrics. On the other hand, you may be sent back to remedy a perceived shortfall based on unrealistic expectations. Navigating between these two possibilities necessitates a good knowledge of the personal inclination of the local utility overseer.

So when I specified the degree of control required for each herbicide it was met with some trepidation amongst the contractors. They would now all be on equal footing as the expectations were both explicit and uniform. As I shared my research that justified the expectations, the contractors gained confidence that the expectations were reasonable and could be met.

How you going to measure that?

Having set the expectation there is a second stage which is how success or failure will be measured. The auditing process had several stages. The first was that the auditor was to evaluate whether all the area designated for herbicide work was in fact treated. Dependent upon the time available to audit the work, this could be done by a full patrol or by random sampling. The second evaluation, which was to occur no sooner than 14 months after the herbicide application, was to assess efficacy. As this process was time consuming, it needed to be done on a sampling basis. Therefore, the auditor was required to set up a sampling process that was random and covered the entire time period that the contractor was engaged in a specific herbicide application. The sampling process needed to be documented so that it too could be audited to ensure it was random.

The contractors quickly grasped that having an objective process for evaluating the herbicide application would avoid conflict and argument with some of our internal staff that were more ‘zealous’ than most in evaluating contractor work.

Over the 10 years in which I oversaw the herbicide program there were couple of instances where contractors were sent back because the treatment width was not achieved. However, there were no instances of the treated areas not meeting the expected degree of control.

This approach to the herbicide program made it clear that we, the utility, were managing the program and served to strengthen relationships with the contractors.

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