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KNOW Before You Dig! 2018 DIRT Report.


In 2003, Ontario witnessed an increase in public awareness as a result of the tragic Bloor Street incident, where 7 people lost their lives due to a gas line that was struck by an excavator. Consequently, the utility industry called out for a more thorough set of regulations, guidelines, best practices, and standards to prevent a similar incident from happening again. Thus, a new set of rules were created that required the excavation community to comply, without providing the necessary training needed to accomplish this.

As a society, we have many training, testing, licencing, and compliance systems in place to protect the public. For example, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) driver licensing system in Ontario is one such system that was put in place to teach drivers how to drive and comply with the complex rules of the road. We do not put new drivers on the road without proper training, testing and licensing. They are not simply provided with a driver’s handbook and told to drive. It sounds preposterous, but this is what has happened to the excavation community.

In 2018, there were 5,042 buried facility damages reported to the Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) in Ontario, just slightly higher than the average damages reported since 2010. Of these, 1,281 (25%) occurred when excavators failed to notify Ontario One Call to obtain locates, and 3,761 (75%) occurred after excavators had notified Ontario One Call and obtained locates.

These damages resulted in an estimated $650 million in societal cost expenditures. This estimate is based on 20% direct and 80% indirect costs that are a result of repairs, emergency response, evacuation, service disruptions, environmental impacts, down-time, interruption / loss of production and sales, and the redirection of safety services such as 9-1-1.

Unfortunately, these damage costs are grossly underestimated, as they only account for some public utility owned buried facility damages that are voluntarily reported, and do not account for any damages to privately owned facilities. If all public and private damages were reported, the actual statistics would likely be much higher.

Much time and energy are spent on educating the general public through marketing campaigns such as “Call or Click Before You Dig”. These campaigns are invaluable and necessary; however, they are only targeting 25% of excavators who had damages and did not get locates.

The most alarming statistic is that 75% of damages in Ontario resulted after Ontario One Call had been notified and, in most cases, public locates had been completed. So why did that 75% of excavators still cause a damage? The DIRT report breaks down the root causes for the damages into several categories including: Insufficient Excavation Practices; Insufficient Locating Practices; Insufficient One Call Notification practices; and, other miscellaneous root causes.

Public awareness campaigns for “Call or Click Before You Dig” are essential in reducing the amount of damages by excavators who did not call for locates. However, to make a larger impact on reducing damages and their consequential societal costs, efforts need to be focused on educating the excavation community who are already obtaining locates. Unfortunately, many excavators learn how to manage the locate process the hard way, and sometimes they never learn all the risk factors that influence the quality of the information on the locate paperwork and marks on the ground.

If there was no risk of striking a buried facility, there would be no damages. Unfortunately, the risks are real and so are the damages. The quality of the information on locate reports, the marks on the ground, and the work of excavators around buried facilities, are influenced by three risk factors: human; technological; and, work site limitations.

Human Factors

  • Human error (despite appropriate training and motivation)

  • Complacency and frustration with our current locate systems

  • Inadequate management of procedures

  • Insufficient training

  • Inability to consistently undertake responsibilities and perform activities successfully (according to set standards)

  • Poor communication (verbal or written)

  • A lax, or non-existent safety culture (influences human behaviour and performance at work)

  • Inadequate resources and staff (for conducting audits, inspections, and testing to ensure workers are following the rules)

Technological Limitations

Electromagnetic cable and pipe locate equipment and ground penetrating radar used to locate buried facilities have many limitations and can be influenced by many factors that include:

  • Non-conductive, non-tonable buried facilities that cannot be traced

  • Angled buried facilities

  • Distortion or ghosting on buried facilities from congested buried facilities or improper signal application

  • Missing, broken, or incorrectly installed tracer wires on non-toneable buried facilities

  • Various site conditions that can influence the accuracy of the ground penetrating radar signal

Work Site Limitations

  • Rain and snow-covered ground

  • Loose surfaces – dusty and/or gravel work sites

  • Vehicular traffic

  • Cluttered work areas

  • Inaccurate, unavailable, or non-existent public and/or private utility infrastructure records

  • No access to connection points for facilities when working on private property

  • No access to knowledgeable operations personnel when working on private property

These risks can be mitigated by the excavator to reduce damages by understanding above and below ground utility infrastructure and knowing how to follow a step by step public and private locate process when planning, requesting, and reviewing locates. Most importantly, the marks on the ground must be respected before excavation begins. However, in order to reduce the risks, it is essential to understand:

  • Legislation, Standards, Guidelines & Best Practices

  • Utility Structures

  • Public Locates

  • Private Locates

  • Locating and Marking

All these factors present us with a complex public and private locate system in Ontario. If one person on the job makes even a small mistake, the results can be catastrophic for the asset owner, everyone involved on the project, and the general public.

When employing workers for excavation purposes, or when directing excavation contractors, the employer needs people with experience, recognised up-to-date qualifications, and relevant health and safety training. The utility locate industry is in its infancy, as such, the regulations, standards, guidelines and best practices, with respect to excavation safety around buried facilities, are numerous and continuously changing.

This presents a tremendous challenge to employers, and those directing the work of others, to ensure that workers are competent and up-to-date with training when working around buried facilities. With a vast amount of information in a state of constant change, the question we hear regularly is, “How do we ensure that our workers are properly trained to ensure we are in compliance?”.

The Ministry of Labour (MOL) states that when appointing a supervisor, that person must be a competent person. The MOL defines a competent person as one who, “is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience to organize the work and its performance; is familiar with this Act and the regulations that apply to the work; and has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health or safety in the workplace”.

Based on regulations, the person ultimately responsible for the locates is the excavator. The excavator can be an individual, partnership, corporation, public agency or any other person that causes a ground disturbance. Based on the complex locate system that they must navigate to comply, these “workers” should also be “competent” as defined by the MOL. They need the knowledge, training, and experience to be able to understand and decipher the complex locate reports, work area utility structures, and marks on the ground before they dig.

Additionally, most regulatory requirements have training courses (some mandatory) such as WHMIS or Working at Heights, that provide employers with a level of assurance that workers have the training and knowledge to work safely in a specific task or job. For the excavation community working around buried facilities, Utility Infrastructure Awareness (UIA) training fills that void. UIA was designed to teach everyone working on an excavation project how to work in compliance within the complex public and private locate processes:

  • The complexity and risk when working around buried facilities;

  • The importance of following industry specific regulations, standards, guidelines and best practices;

  • How to manage the complex public and private locate processes;

  • How to respect the marks on the ground; and

  • The importance of taking ownership of your safety and those around you.

The benefits of using UIA to qualify workers and subcontractors for excavation projects are many:

  • Increases safety by reducing damages to buried facilities;

  • Avoids costly overruns from the mismanagement of locates;

  • Ensures that you are employing competent workers on projects with an excavation component;

  • Creates accountability for excavation contractors;

  • Helps owners and employers prove due diligence for worker training when a buried facility is damaged, or if a worker is injured as a result;

  • Fosters a positive safety culture when working around buried facilities; and

  • Ensures that everyone on a project speaks the same language and has the same mindset when working around buried facilities.

The statistics prove that much change is needed for the excavation community to reach the “Holy Grail” of 0% damages to buried facilities. To attain this, or even reduce these damages, the excavation community must strive for better ways to educate to reduce or eliminate the human, work, and technological risk factors within the public and private locate processes. This will only be achieved when there are consistent damage prevention awareness campaigns; mandatory “Utility Infrastructure Awareness” training, testing and certification for excavation workers; and, when the public and private locating and marking systems in place today are updated for accuracy and efficiency.

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