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Utility Locates: Limiting Conditions for Proposals and Contracts

When performing any type of ground disturbance for a work project, it usually starts with a proposal. Then it is followed by a contract between the company performing the ground disturbance and their client. Before any type of ground disturbance begins, utility locates must be obtained. This can be a long-complicated task depending on the location of the ground disturbance. The public and private locate processes are multifaceted, involving many parties, that have an active role and often, some of the parties may not know their role.

Communicating what you need to work safely, and to be in compliance when breaking ground is a very important initial step in the ground disturbance / locate process.

We prepared the following example as an educational tool to ensure that all parties know the risks associated with ground disturbing work and to better understand where the liability may fall when there is a facility damage. The following example can be used in proposals and contracts to convey what is needed from clients for workers to work safely and comply with ground disturbance regulations and best practices:

ABC INC (change to your company name) is required by law to have all underground public and private utility infrastructure located and marked in a work area before performing any type of ground disturbance.

The Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act, The Ministry of Labour, Technical Standards and Safety Authority, the Electrical Safety Authority, and National Energy Board, require that before performing any type of ground disturbance, underground utility infrastructure in the work area must be located and marked. The Occupational Health and Safety Act states that, “Before an excavation is begun, (a) the employer excavating shall ensure that all gas, electrical and other services in and near the area to be excavated are located and marked.” O. Reg 228, 1. Therefore, all private and public utility owned buried services must be marked before breaking ground.


ABC INC will request public locates for the work area for all public buried facilities from: Ontario One Call and any other public utility company that is not a not member of this call center.

ABC INC will also represent the owner of the property and retain a private locate service provider (LSP) to have the private underground infrastructure located on the property on their behalf.

Private LSPs require the following information to perform a private locate:

· An up-to-date property survey to identify any easements on the property.

· Accurate as-built utility drawings or any records with regards to the buried services.

· Access to all buildings and mechanical rooms.

· A person knowledgeable about the property’s buried utility infrastructure and mechanical rooms.

These 4 requirements should be provided to ABC INC that will be forwarded to the private LSP to perform a private locate. Please note that some buried services may not be detected or located accurately if these 4 requirements are not provided to ABC INC or the private LSP.

Be aware that there are many limitations with regards to private utility locates, as such some buried cables or pipes may not be detectable or located accurately due to: depth; lack of tracer wires; material makeup; inability to connect properly; congested facilities; parked cars; or snow-covered ground. This may be compounded by lack of access or access too far from the area to be traced. For this reason, it is important to provide utility records for troubleshooting purposes and to understand the risks associated with ground disturbance projects.

The Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) ASCE Standard 38-02 is a guideline for the collection and depiction of existing subsurface utility services. This standard assigned risk levels to utility infrastructure locate methods and assigns a “Moderate” risk to the locate methods employed by Locate Technicians. The technologies they employ have limitations and cannot always accurately identify the horizontal extent of underground infrastructure. If no risk is preferred, then the Standard suggests using daylighting methods by means of hydrovac or air knifing methods when breaking ground.

Private LSPs should provide information with regards to their private locate investigation. If the Private Locate Technicians identifies a limitation with respect to their ability to perform their locate task, they may suggest further actions, such as the use of ground penetrating radar or daylighting to help reduce the risk further.

It must be understood and agreed by all parties working on ground disturbance projects, that the location and marking private underground infrastructure by ABC INC or their sub-contractors have been performed on behalf of the property owner and it is the property owner’s responsibility to ensure that the services have been marked to their satisfaction. Due to the risks involved as defined in the SUE ASCE Standard 38-02, ABC INC or their sub-contractors cannot be held liable for any damages for personal injury including death to any person or for property damage caused from or to the said buried facility or to any other property, by reason of ABC INC, or any other person or corporation, having relied upon the location and marking of buried facilities by the private LSP.

If you have any comments with regards to this post or a point of view that you would like to share, please message me at Have a Safe and Wonderful Day!


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