November 15, 2015
By Terry Murphy CLM

Terry MurphyWe have written before about utility repairs following an underground accident. Examples such as these provide you with some actual experiences from Landscape Ontario excavating landscape contractors.

This article will give you some details of a recent situation of a contractor working in a tolerance zone where the soil is hard clay. The same situation could apply where water-soaked soil has frozen solid.

Normally for a one-inch gas line running into a residential house, the average utility repair cost for a strike is about $1,500. The Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) will charge you another $750 administration fee and jobsite visit, along with another $750 fine if you do not have locates. Therefore, you can generally expect a total repair cost of approximately $3,000 for this problem.

Last month one of our Toronto contractors hit a two-inch residential gas line. His repair invoice was $11,000.

This is a good opportunity to learn from his misfortune.

On this particular job, the contractor had called for locates from Ontario One Call. He was working inside the one-metre tolerance zone limit. The gas line was in hard clay and the contractor’s crew was working late with a hand tool that had a sharp point in order to loosen the hard compacted clay. Being hard clay, any type of hand tool was not providing much soil breakup.

The contractor’s crew proceeded to use a sharp pointed tool and a gas line was struck. The time was afterhours. Almost immediately, three utility repair trucks arrived. Naturally there were overtime charges for the repair, because it was after 5 p.m. The total repair charge was $11,000. The contractor is still waiting for the ‘lost gas’ charge from the utility. As of this writing he has not received any invoices from TSSA. The final cost could exceed $13,000.

Working in hard clay or frozen soil requires special considerations.  Probably, the best suggestion is not to use any hand tools at all, but consider alternative methods for loosening the soil.

The Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) Best Practice Manual indicates that anyone working within the tolerance zone must not use any machinery, only hand tools.

What is the definition of a hand tool and what are examples of what should be used? If you look in the ORCGA Best Practice Manual you will not find any definition or examples for a hand tool. A request will now be made to the Canadian Common Ground Alliance Best Practice Committee to include a definition for hand tool in the Glossary of Terms and to provide examples. This will hopefully be included in the next printing of the Manual.  

Generally, a hand tool for work in a tolerance zone must be a blunt instrument with no sharp edges, or points that could cut a plastic pipe or puncture a metal line, etc.
The key is to make sure that you cannot cut, rupture, puncture or damage a utility service when using a hand tool. When you think about it, removing block of ice or hard clay surrounding a pipe or wire is almost impossible without damaging the utility service. The more one thinks about it, the more difficult it appears.  

The Toronto contractor advised me that his company will not use hand tools any more when working inside the tolerance zone. He will now turn to the hydro-vac process to loosen the hard soil within the tolerance zone. He has used hydro-vac services on his last three jobs, and says it is very efficient, safe, time effective, but very expensive.

It costs about $1,400 for a couple of hours work. For this contractor, he says that it is worth the expense, because he cannot afford the potential cost and lost time for any more tolerance zone problems. Remember that it is not only the invoice amount from the utility that is a cost, but it is the time that it takes for the contractor to resolve the problem and the opportunity loss when you could be doing more profitable things.  It is always the aggravation that goes with the problem.

Hydro-vac excavating has been around for more than three decades, but is not used much by the landscape community. It is a method of injecting pressurized water into the soil to break up the material surrounding the utility. This is a very safe way to work in the tolerance zone and is virtually free from any possible damages. This contractor highly recommends the hydro-vac process.  Hot water can also be used where required.

I have mentioned before that each Landscape Ontario Chapter is missing the boat by not having an LO representative participating in local ORCGA Council meetings. These councils exist in many of the same cities as the LO Chapters. Meetings are short and the networking is invaluable.  

Excavating contractors, road builders, municipalities and utilities are represented at these ORCGA Council meetings. There are always guest speakers who present views on various topics and the hydro-vac people are always present for discussions. These excavators are full of information on effective excavation techniques within the tolerance zone. Contact Jennifer Parent, of the ORCGA, for details at 905-328-7063.

At Congress 2016, we are planning an ORCGA Speakers Education Corner. This will include three speakers per day, Jan. 12-14, for a total of nine subjects. Each subject will be on damage prevention. Each session will be 15 – 20 minutes and then questions and answers. The event will take place on the trade show floor with seating for 30 participants. After each 20 minute talk, we will collect business cards and draw for a $50 door prize. Talks each day will run from 10 a.m. until 11:30. Also, Jan 13, is Dig Safe Day at Congress.

At the Canada Blooms Show in 2016, ORCGA will have a small display in the contractors’ exhibit area. This display will highlight for the public the dangers of digging on their property and the importance anyone who digs, to get locates.” In addition, Ontario One Call and the ORCGA will have a combined booth in the National Home Show area to distribute Dig Safe literature and to discuss the importance of locates.

Please contact me with suggestions or comments on this article or any other damage prevention issue.
Terry Murphy can be reached at