On a typical day, how often do you make use of buried utilities? Even before you leave for work your alarm clock goes off, you turn on the lights, run the faucet to brush your teeth and brew a cup of coffee. You commute to work, respond to emails on your phone and pay for lunch on your credit card.
Damaging a buried utility can have serious consequences. Some of the damages have made headlines: communities evacuate thousands of people because of a broken gas line, flights delayed when an airport’s power or internet is disrupted, homes destroyed in an explosion.
According to the Statistics Canada’s Infrastructure Statistics Hub, Canada invested around $15 billion in 2017 on telecommunication lines, electrical transmission and distribution lines and oil and gas pipelines, both above and below ground.
Based on findings by the Centre for Interuniversity Research and Analysis of Organizations, the estimated societal cost to Canada of damages to underground infrastructure in 2017 was around $1 billion. For every $15 dollars spent on utility lines, it cost Canadians another dollar in societal costs as a result of damages — a percentage larger than our five per cent GST.
The cost to Canadians adds up quickly: the 2017 CCGA DIRT Report says Canada averages about 45 reported damages per workday. The average societal cost of a single damage to a buried utility is $80,000. That works out to $3.6 million a day in societal costs.
And the worst part is this cost is easily avoidable: 51 per cent of damages were a result of not contacting a notification centre to request a locate before digging. This needs to change.
Damage Prevention Legislation in Canada
At this time, Ontario is the only province in Canada with comprehensive damage prevention legislation in place (Bill 8, 2012). However, the Government of Canada and the Legislative Assembly of Alberta are taking steps towards federal and provincial damage prevention legislation.
The Canadian Common Ground Alliance (CCGA) and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) are collaborating on a pilot project to prevent damage to underground infrastructure. As part of the project they will be coordinating notification processes before an excavation occurs near federally regulated underground infrastructure or on federal lands.
As part of the pilot project, PSPC and the CCGA are working with other departments and agencies of the federal government to promote a consistent approach to damage prevention. They are working with regulators who have jurisdiction over underground infrastructure — Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada — as well as the agencies that manage Federal land — National Defence and Parks Canada.
In Alberta, the Alberta Underground Infrastructure Notification System Consultation Act, or Bill 211, was tabled in the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 28, 2018. Bill 211 proposes a committee of the Legislative Assembly recommend amendments to legislation that will improve safety for excavators and further protect underground infrastructure in Alberta.
What You Can Do
There are things that you can do to help lower the cost of damage to buried utilities.
- Reach out to your utility providers, including your municipal government, to find out if they have registered their utilities with a notification centre.
- If you work in an industry that performs ground disturbances, it’s a great idea to take a ground disturbance course and earn a certificate, even if you aren’t directly involved in excavations.
The Alberta Common Ground Alliance (ABCGA) has two ground disturbance training standards that have been developed in collaboration with excavators, utility owners and regulators. The Ground Disturbance 201 Standard is now available in British Columbia, and the ABCGA is working with regional common ground alliances to further adapt the standard for other provinces in Canada.
- If you happen to hit a buried utility line, whether on the job or in your own backyard, report the incident to the Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) at cga-dirt.com. Reporting damages to DIRT helps organizations across North America further prevent damages and directs industry guidelines and legislation. Reporting to DIRT is anonymous.
- Most important of all (no matter the project) if you are disturbing the ground, always contact your local notification centre to request a locate by visiting ClickBeforeYouDig.com.