May 15, 2016
By Terry Murphy CLM

Terry MurphyHomeowners are a major problem for the damage prevention industry in Ontario. The average homeowner really knows nothing about damage prevention and what is under the soil waiting for an accident when they dig. When they buy a tree or shrub at their local garden centre or big box store, they simply go ahead and dig a hole and plant it. They think nothing about what is underground, mainly because they just don’t know or think about underground utilities. For the last four years in Ontario, the public has had an annual average of 543 utility hits. There was an annual total average of 4,696 utility hits across the province over this same four-year period. The public is causing about 12 per cent of the damages that are recorded throughout our DIRT Reporting System. This compares to the green industry annual four-year average of 721 hits, which is 15 per cent of the annual total average number of hits. So when you think about it, the public is causing almost as much of a problem as the whole green industry which includes all contractors for landscaping, fencing, irrigation, agriculture and waterways. As you can see, this is a major problem.


The challenge is simply this: without any advertising money, how does the Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) and the damage prevention industry solve the major problem of reducing homeowner utility hits? What can we do to reduce the number of annual utility hits by the public? This is what the ORCGA’s annual Dig Safe spring promotion program is all about. When you hear about “Dig Safe” you should understand our goal and promote it as much as you can. The prime goal is public awareness and advising homeowners to call ON1CALL for locates before they dig. Each company in our industry can help out with advertising and promoting the Dig Safe damage prevention safety program to the public and to all homeowners and to their own employees.

Spring Dig Safe program

Our main focus for public promotion is to have as many local events as possible scheduled though the ORCGA head office and the Geographic Councils or industry companies. Each spring the ORCGA schedules many Dig Safe events. One type of event that gets a great deal of attention is when we can work with a municipality. For example, we may have the attention of a mayor of a particular municipality for an hour. The mayor will read a proclamation declaring the municipality support for Dig Safe for the month, then the mayor will raise the Dig Safe Flag which will fly for the month (March or April) and the ceremony will conclude with a barbeque or networking session. We attempt to have as many of the area ORCGA Geographic Council members present in their yellow Dig Safe t-shirts to support the event. This format is also used with private companies in our industry who want to celebrate Dig Safe with their employees and have their own individual promotion. Each of the 13 Geographic Councils will have their own events scheduled throughout March and April. We will pick a certain city or town and use it for a kick-off to start the spring promotion. This year it was Kingston. Two years ago it was Toronto. Some ORCGA Geographic Councils work with a Tim Hortons or a Home Depot to hold local events. These companies not only give the public awareness of our damage prevention efforts, but also further promote the message to any local excavating contractor. These local events take place during March and April as an introduction to the spring excavating season.

As one can appreciate, it is very difficult to know if homeowners are getting the message or not.

Special events

This year the ORCGA decided to have a booth at the National Home Show in downtown Toronto. The show co-located with Canada Blooms which caters to the landscape sector. This event draws between 150,000 and 200,000 visitors over 10 days. We probably discussed Dig Safe with over 500 people during the 10 days of the show. At the same time, the ORCGA had a landscape exhibit in the Canada Blooms portion of the show. This display, sponsored by ON1CALL, won an award for the Best Education Exhibit (for students) and probably had more than 400 visitors during the show. We probably had one-on-one sessions with almost 1,000 people during the show for the two exhibits. In the two spring months of March and April, the industry will have almost 100 separate events which promote damage prevention to more than 3,000 members of the public. Each event will have a spin-off that participants can take the information home to share with their family and neighbours. It is hard to measure the spin-off effect.

There was a Dig Safe event at Mohawk College this spring. The horticultural apprenticeship students had a two-hour lecture on locates and underground safety and wore their yellow t-shirts for the day at the Stoney Creek Campus on Barton Street. This gave some exposure to the Hamilton/Stoney Creek public on the underground and about obtaining locates before they dig.

Homeowners hits decrease in 2014

In 2013 there were 790 utility hits by the public. In 2014, there were 550. That is a 30 per cent reduction in one year. This is outstanding and may represent the fact that the public is learning more about what is underground, and that they are calling ON1CALL for locates and that they are more conscious about the dangers of digging underground.

All the industry and the ORCGA can do is to continue with their spring promotion of Dig Safe events each year and continue to promote the importance of calling for locates before they dig. This year is the 12th straight year for our Dig Safe program to the public. If you want to have a Dig Safe event, please call Jennifer Parent at the ORCGA office at 1-866-446-4493 for details. Thank you to all the industry participants for volunteering in our annual Dig Safe events and for participating on our Geographic Councils. Your efforts are definitely making a difference. The statistics verify this improvement with a 30 per cent reduction in homeowner hit over the last year.
Terry Murphy can be reached at