Pipeline safety: 3 reasons why unauthorized digging is dangerous

April is the first full month of spring and primetime for Canadians to embark on their gardening and excavation projects. It’s also the perfect time for a reminder to take appropriate safety measures before you start.

The first step in safe digging is to obtain authorization to dig. If you don’t, there could be dire consequences including injuries and possibly even death.

What is authorization?

Every time you plan to do a digging project, it’s critical to find out where underground infrastructure, such as pipelines, power lines or sewer lines and communication cables, is buried. Most provinces have a Call or Click Before You Dig service which allows Canadians to request that location of  buried infrastructure be marked for them – it’s quick, easy and free.

Why is it important to obtain authorization?

Wherever there are homes or businesses in Canada, there is likely to be underground infrastructure that can be damaged if the ground is disturbed. If you dig without first knowing what’s beneath you, there’s a risk your shovel or backhoe could contact something more than dirt.

The dangers of digging around a pipeline without authorization

We asked Farhad Seif, manager of environment, health and safety with Trans-Northern Pipelines to explain what could happen if a pipeline is damaged due to unauthorized digging. He explained there are three primary concerns:

#1 Corrosion

Pipelines are buried underground, and they have a special coating, which helps prevent corrosion.

“A hit to the exterior of the pipeline can damage the coating that could result in corrosion two, three or four years later,” explained Farhad. Left untreated, corrosion can impact the strength of the metal of the pipeline, which means that any damage to the coating must be assessed and fixed by the pipeline operator, before it leads to a leak.

#2 Environmental damages

“When a pipeline leaks, it can cause significant damage to the environment, including watercourses,” said Farhad.

#3 Personal injuries

“If the product in the pipeline is volatile or is a gas that could cause an explosion, there is the chance of fatalities or serious burns,” Farhad warned.

Although such incidents are thankfully rare, whenever there is the chance that machinery will come into contact with a pipeline, such a possibility exists.

A shared responsibility

Pipeline companies are required to ensure that landowners, residents and the public are aware of pipelines in their area and educate them on how to live and work safely around them. Landowners and other members of the public are equally responsible for ensuring that they respect pipelines and follow the guidelines provided.

In some jurisdictions, there are penalties for digging without requesting a locate, getting consent and following all approval terms and conditions. In Ontario, for instance, the Technical Standards and Safety Authority may impose significant fines on those who are found to be digging without the proper authorizations.

April is Dig Safe Awareness month, so stay tuned for more Dig Safe related posts. We’ll be explaining how people can get authorization to dig using the One-Call Locate service, urban planning and pipelines, and how pipeline companies patrol their right-of-ways checking for unauthorized activities.

Before starting any digging, always visit Click Before you Dig and click on the province or state where you are planning your project.

In the meantime, check out these other blog posts about safe digging:

And if you think you have a pretty good understanding of what it means to dig safely, why not take our fun quiz: Test your knowledge about safe digging.