October 22, 2016
By Terry Murphy CLM

Terry MurphyHave you ever heard something on the radio or television or read an item in the newspaper and said to yourself, “that can’t be true. It must be a mistake!” That’s the reaction I had when I read the recent statistics from the 2015 Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) DIRT Report (Damage Information Reporting Tool).

Is the 2015 data reversed?

The specific item I am referring to is the key statistics on utility hits for 2015. Utility hits for the green professions (landscaping, fencing, irrigation, waterways and agriculture) in Ontario is reported as 15 per cent of the total hits, while the public (homeowners) is reported as 12 per cent of the total hits. To me, it seems these numbers should be reversed. Let me explain.

In general, homeowners don’t think about what’s underground when they are planting in their garden. They don’t understand damage prevention. They don’t know there are billions of dollars worth of buried infrastructure everywhere. They don’t think underground safety when planting a tree or shrub they have just purchased from their local garden centre or nursery. On the other hand, you have a professional industry that knows it is law in Ontario to first obtain locates by calling ON1CALL before digging and that hand digging is mandatory in the tolerance zone (one metre on either side of a buried utility). Substantial fines and penalties exit if someone strikes a buried utility. There are an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 excavating firms in the province compared to millions of homeowners.

It would seem to me, that the professional, knowledgeable, and experienced professions would have far fewer hits than the mass of unknowing homeowners. The facts say it is the reverse — that it is the professionals having more hits than the homeowners. With a total number of 4,434 hits in Ontario in 2015, homeowners accounted for 12 per cent (532 hits), while the green professions were responsible for 15 per cent (or 665 hits). Both are very high and increased significantly over the 2014 numbers, partly due to new companies reporting due to the introduction of Bill 8 in the Ontario Legislature.

Other stats are hard to believe

One of the things I pay very close attention to is the root cause of utility hits. In other words, what is the main reason for so many hits? We are always looking to see what the main reasons are for so many underground utility hits and why they are on the increase. We are always looking to correct the situation. Again, I find it very hard to believe that year after year, the main reason for most hits is because a contractor fails to call ON1CALL for locates prior to digging. Last year, 40 per cent of all underground utility hits were for this very reason (two out of every five). Ask yourself this question: With the free ON1CALL service providing locates within five business days, and potential fines and damages to a contractor ranging from $3,000 to $15,000, why would a contractor not call for locates before digging? Yet it happens again and again, year after year.

Secondly, 33 per cent of all hits are due to poor or faulty excavation practices by the contractor. This is another statistic that baffles me. How can a contractor not get it right with so much at stake? Contractors work within a tolerance zone on every job, so why are there any hits at all? I understand when working in hard clay it can be easy to cut, scrape, or fracture a plastic pipe. But with current hyrdrovac technology available, why not let those experts handle the excavation within the tolerance zone? Why take a chance? The two root causes of not calling for locates, and poor excavation account for over 70 per cent of all damages. Surprisingly, this is consistent year after year. We all have to work harder towards reducing these two ailments.

Educating both groups is key

The purpose of the ORCGA is to educate anyone who digs about the potential hazards underground and the need to contact ON1CALL for locates. Becoming a member of the ORCGA will help to further this goal. The root causes of utility hits can be greatly reduced in numbers through participation in spring Dig Safe events, literature and continued focus at various meetings and functions. I encourage you to share this information with your colleagues and hope we can have fewer hits in the future (and no loss of life in the process). It costs nothing to make a two-minute call to ON1CALL to get locates before you dig.
Terry Murphy can be reached at tvmurphy@ca.inter.net.