Next time you pick up a shovel or step into an excavator, think about this: every year, accidental damage to underground infrastructure costs Canadians an estimated one billion dollars.
This astonishing figure is calculated by the Canadian Common Ground Alliance (CCGA), using data from six different provinces across Canada.
Mike Sullivan, executive director of CCGA, explained that the figure includes direct costs, such as repair, but also the societal costs, including the following:
You can read more about these figures, and see provincial breakdowns in the CCGA’s National Dirt Report on Damage to Underground Infrastructure (PDF).
Accidental damage to underground infrastructure, and the costs outlined above, could be virtually eliminated if we all do our part – and request a service locate before digging.
If you live in an urban community, the network of services entering your home likely includes water, sewer, irrigation, cable, internet, phone, gas and electricity. On a farm or acreage, there could also be transmission pipelines or high transmission electric cables crossing your land.
We asked Mike how deep those services are likely to be buried.
“They may have been buried at a standard depth conducive to regular ground disturbance at one point, but over time with ground erosion or other forces, they’re no longer at that depth. The key thing is to always click before you dig because you just don’t know.”
Requesting a locate is a quick, simple process, and is completely free. Visitors to the click before you dig website simply click on their province and follow a series of simple instructions. The website even allows you to include photos or Google images to show where the project will take place. Within a few days, infrastructure owners will be out to mark their services.
The cost for skipping this simple step can be more than the inconvenience of an interrupted service and the financial costs outlined above.
“There is always the possibility for injury, or worse,” Mike explained. “For instance, a homeowner in Edmonton was pounding in rebar for tomato stakes when he hit a gas line. The gas migrated into the house and then when he went inside the gas ignited and caused an explosion.”
Tragedies like this are completely avoidable, and that’s why Alberta One-Call spends 25 per cent of its revenue on public awareness campaigns, including radio, TV and digital advertising, social media and public awareness sessions.
For the past two years, CCGA has been working on the Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Act, Bill S229.
“The bill is in the Senate right now, and we are hoping that it will pass this May,” said Mike. “It will then transfer to the House of Commons. If successful, the bill will mean that infrastructure owners are legally required to register with a One-Call centre, and anyone digging is legally required to request a locate. Although enforcement could include escalating penalties for non-compliance, the CCGA is more intent on promoting awareness and educating the public to Know What’s Below before they dig.”
But whether it’s required by law or not, requesting a locate is simply the right thing to do.
“I believe that people want to be diligent,” he concluded, “but they think they know where everything is so they go out in the backyard and start digging. The convenience factor comes into it, and that’s when people take a chance – but then the inconvenience factor takes over, when they take out a service, or worse.”
Be sure to check out our other posts in this Dig Safe Awareness Month series: