Last Word: Everybody Plays a Part in Underground Damage Prevention



Everyone has heard “Safety is no accident” and I recently attended a seminar on Critical Safety Thinking by an international guest speaker David Fennell, CRSP. This event was sponsored by Canadian Society of Safety Engineering Thompson Okanagan Chapter)to promote the North American Occupational Safety & Health week, May 6-11. His speech reminded me to question risk tolerance.


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So, I would like to share Bill S229. What is Bill S229?

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Without going into great detail on the Canadian Legislative process, a Bill is a proposal/idea that has to pass many specific stages to become a Law. So, in essence Bill S229 is trying to create a federal underground infrastructure notification system.

Simply, it requires:

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a) Underground infrastructure(s) to be registered with a notification centre.

b) Anyone who is planning to undertake in a ground disturbance makes a locate request.

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c) Operators of the registered utility assist with locating the underground utility to mitigate any damage.

Now doesn’t that sound like a good idea?

A utility owner invests and builds underground infrastructure; however, they need legislation to manage the risk of damage prevention. I truly understand why some owners would not want to participate due to poor record keeping (as-builts etc.) and potential costs and reduced shareholder’s dividends to participate. Although, I would think a line strike wouldn’t be favourable outcome either. I don’t want to downplay the owner’s that have already stepped up and taken part in our BC One Call system.

The Canadian Common Ground Alliance (CCGA) mantra is “Damage is a Shared Responsibility.” Therefore, establishing a platform where knowledge is shared early in the project enables the best practices to do what they were intended to do.

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So, Bill S229 is still an idea and what can you do?

The work that we have done to this point to raise awareness of Bill S229 has helped bring the CCGA and the Government of Canada together to sign a memorandum of understanding with Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) that I believe will ultimately impose S229’s procedural elements into existing governance.

The immediate next steps with regard to S229 is a pilot project managed by PSPC in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. This pilot will explore the procedural and operational gaps presented by bill S229 relative to underground infrastructure governed by PSPC (underground infrastructure on federal lands). The pilot’s findings will be shared with other federal ministries and departments governing underground infrastructure with an objective to secure a Treasury Board Directive.

We need all Canadians to get involved. Since, underground utilities are out of sight and out of mind until they are not performing as intended we as users and potential ground disturbers get complacent.

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There is website ( dedicated to Bill S229 where anyone can get information about the bill and select a pre-written letter of support that you can send to your member of parliament underlining the importance of this legislation. The process is automated and takes less than two minutes to complete. So far, 775 letters have been submitted.

When thinking about underground damage prevention, keep this example in mind. Telling someone it costs $5,000 to repair of section of pipe that was damaged during a dig doesn’t seem exorbitant. However, that number quickly balloons when you factor in societal costs — impacts on traffic, businesses, residential units, etc.

Using data from the DIRT report — the report generated annually from the Common Ground Alliance’s Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) that monitors underground infrastructure hits — the CCGA commissioned Centre for Interuniversity Research and Analysis of Organizations, to develop a societal cost formula. When applied to DIRT data, the formula would provide a defendable estimate of the costs society bears in relation to damaged underground infrastructure.

In 2015, the year most recent data was available, damages to underground infrastructure cost Albertans an estimated $300 million. Extrapolated across the country, Canadians are conservatively looking at more than $1 billion in damages.

With today’s technology and apps, we often assume that such a simple idea would already be mandatory and implemented. The existing system is evolving and getting better. This necessary change from voluntary compliance to law will save a life.

Every citizen’s involvement will make a difference and legislation will minimize the existing complacency. The law with increased training and awareness will lead to greater knowledge and skills to effectively manage this risk.

With everyone’s participation, and the approval of Bill S229, we can create a culture that reduces risk tolerance. Please get involved and make a difference.

Harry Dickinson is an estimator with The Tunneling Company and a member of the Trenchless Technology Canada Editorial Advisory Board. Dickinson is also a member of the British Columbia Common Ground Alliance board of directors.