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Irrigating a capital

December 9, 2014 -  By

How Nutri-Lawn Ottawa navigates certifications and security clearances to provide irrigation services for government properties.

Looking beyond its hefty duty to water every blade of government grass in Canada’s capital—and receiving security clearances and certifications to do so, Nutri-Lawn Ottawa has a surprisingly simple end in view.

“Hopefully we’re as nice to the homeowner as we are to the prime minister,” says Rob Johnstone, irrigation project manager for the branch of Nutri-Lawn Corp.

Headquartered in Toronto, the corporation has 28 locations. Nutri-Lawn Ottawa maintains 2,500 irrigation accounts, a fifth of which are commercial, including the government account it has secured for 10 years. It’s the largest irrigation service provider in the city, Nutri-Lawn Ottawa’s Irrigation Coordinator Martina Charlebois says.

The branch has taken a two-sided approach to get to that point: 1). On the job site, it makes safety a top priority through certifications, and 2). When it comes to customers, it operates with a “you call, we come” manifesto.

Certified to provide

Certifications vary from region to region in Canada, Johnstone says. The four that Nutri-Lawn Ottawa requires its irrigation technicians to hold include Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS); first aid; confined space; and fall arrest, aka fall safety.

“You have to have all four of those just to get on the job site in a lot of places,” Johnstone says.

WHMIS and first aid are required on all job sites, whereas the confined space certification and fall arrest certification are necessary for commercial job sites.

With Nutri-Lawn Ottawa’s irrigation segment comprising 30 percent of the business, the certifications can be handy in its other profit centers as well. Lawn care makes up 50 percent and lighting (landscape and holiday) accounts for the remaining portion.

Employing up to 30 irrigation technicians during its busy season, Nutri-Lawn Ottawa makes an ample investment in certifications each year. Most require daylong courses and cost around $80 per certification per person, Charlebois says.

It’s a small price compared to what could occur if something went wrong, Johnstone says, especially on commercial accounts where there are more hazards. Plus, with all mainline pipe located 5 feet below ground in Ottawa, the confined space certification is a safeguard for technicians who must enter manholes or concrete bunkers.

In accordance with the certification, technicians who enter such confined spaces must test the air quality before entering the area and be attached to a winch, plus complete the proper paperwork to affirm procedures were followed.

The fall arrest certification, “that’s basically for anybody who’s going to be using ropes and harnesses on a roof, anywhere you can fall,” Johnstone says.

It’s been necessary for irrigation installations on green roofs—a service on the upswing at Nutri-Lawn Ottawa, Johnstone adds.

Martina Charlebois

Martina Charlebois

Familiar faces are key

Like certifications, security clearances are a requirement for some Nutri-Lawn Ottawa technicians who work on government property.

“All our employees have site-access security clearance,” Johnstone says. “Then anybody who has to go into the buildings to turn on and off the water, they have to have an upgraded security level.”

To receive clearance, technicians must fill out an eight-page form, providing previous employers, criminal record, “a full rundown of your life,” Charlebois says.  If approved, the clearance is good for four years.

Though, not all Nutri-Lawn Ottawa employees work on the government sites. “The group we use for the government accounts have been with us for over five years,” Charlebois says.

Johnstone adds, “We keep those techs on those routes to keep the familiarity there.”

In the event a “rookie” technician receives security clearance, he or she must shadow a cleared “veteran” technician to learn the ropes on government sites and build relationships with personnel on the account.

Nutri-Lawn Ottawa uses this familiar-face tactic for residential accounts, too, keeping technicians on the same routes to develop more personal customer relationships.

“Generally we maintain the same service level,” Johnstone says. “We just do good work, and show up on time when they need us to. We excel in ‘you call, we come.’ That keeps people happy.”

Photo: Nutri-Lawn Ottawa

About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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