Dig Safe Month: Utility companies take public safety message online during pandemic

April is Safe Digging Month – bringing attention to the important issue of safe digging practices around pipelines and other underground infrastructure. This month’s blogs will highlight some of the ways CEPA members work with the public and different industries to keep their pipelines – and the public – safe.

In 2020, thousands of Canadians swapped their commute to the office for a quick jaunt down the hall. Working remotely has become the norm for many, with the pandemic changing how we communicate. The same is true for pipeline companies, which have robust public safety campaigns that typically include events, seminars and other in-person interactions.

While COVID-19 slowed down many activities, it didn’t stop people from starting new projects around the house and digging in their yards. When the pandemic hit, pipeline and utility companies had to quickly shift their programming to make sure their critical message Click or Call Before You Dig did not get lost.

“Because people couldn’t travel, some people spent some of their savings on their home and doing renovations outside,” said Michelle Petrusevich, Public Safety Manager, FortisBC. “As such, we stressed the importance of reminding homeowners—if you’re doing anything, please remember that it’s important to stay safe and follow proper excavation procedures. You don’t want to be that neighbour who damages, or has hired a contractor who damages an underground utility.”

FortisBC and its partners took their campaigns online and worked with the media to ensure the public still received the public safety information. The messaging was adjusted to reflect the pandemic, encouraging people to call or click before they dig to avoid causing an emergency that would add to the already overflowing plates of first responders.

Petrusevich says it seemed to work. Last year, more British Columbians called BC 1 Call and the number of hits to FortisBC lines went down by nine per cent.

As the pandemic continues, companies continue to find creative new ways to reach the public. Typically, FortisBC sends street teams to garden centres with a booth and handouts to educate people about safe digging as they buy their supplies for the season. Instead, they are posting signs in strategic places around stores – like where the shovels are sold – reminding people to Click Before You Dig or call their provincial one-call service.

While Petrusevich says nothing replaces face-to-face conversations, some of these changes have provided new opportunities and may be here to stay.

“There is a silver lining to using an online component – there’s more flexibility and we have the ability to reach more remote communities,” said Petrusevich. “We will be offering online sessions going forward even after the pandemic is over. I think it will be a hybrid going forward.”

Regardless of how the message is delivered, what’s important is that Canadians are making that call or clicking before they dig to avoid damaging a pipeline or other underground utility. It’s about keeping them, their families and neighbours safe and protecting our critical infrastructure.

“Anything that involves disturbing the ground requires that you contact your provincial one call service or Click Before You Dig – and that information is free,” said Petrusevich.  “We want to make sure our customers are safe.”

That is the number one priority for Canada’s transmission pipeline companies. They are working together to find new ways to keep improving and keep people safe during the pandemic and beyond.

For more information on safe digging, visit fortisbc.com/digsafe.

Special thanks to Michelle Petrusevich, Public Safety Manager, FortisBC for her contribution to this article.