July 6, 2021
Terry MurphyStatistics on the number of underground utility hits in 2020 are mixed. While the province saw a 10 per cent drop in the overall number of hits, figures for the landscaping sector are up 12.4 per cent and a whopping 30.5 per cent for the fencing sector.

Ontario results

In Table 1, It’s great to see a province-wide improvement over the last two years. This is excellent progress and could indicate excavators are calling for locates and digging safely. Homeowners still cause 17.3 per cent of all hits and with the cancellation of the National Home Show and Canada Blooms, we missed a golden opportunity to educate the public on this serious issue.


When a locate request is received by ON1CALL, each utility that has underground assets on that property is notified, and are required to provide a locate so the excavating contractor can avoid damaging that underground asset. Some properties could have 10 or more utilities, so each notification represents an opportunity for a utility hit. Therefore, in comparing hits, we need to look at the number of actual hits compared to how many opportunities a contractor faces when digging. If the number of notifications are substantially down, it could mean hits may have been reduced, however, the performance may still be poor. The key measurement therefore must be Hits per Notification (Table 2). If this ratio is reduced from year to year, it means performance has improved.

The province had 6,227,727 total notifications in 2019 and 5,746,332 in 2020 (a reduction of 7.7 per cent). So if the number of chances to hit an underground utility in 2020 was 7.7 per cent less, and the reduction in utility hits was 7.6 per cent less, then there is not really any improvement. The actual number of hits were down in 2020, but so were the number of chances available to do damage.

Table 1: Number of underground utility hits

SECTOR 2018 2019 2020 2020/2019 % of Total
Ontario 5,371 4,940 4,566 -7.6% 100%
Landscaping 341 353 397 +12.4% 8.7%
Fencing 480 375 488 +30.0% 10.7%
Homeowners 670 567 791 +30.5% 17.3%

Table 2: Hits per notification

TOTAL PROVINCE 2018 2019 2020
Hits 5,371 4,940 4,566
Notifications 6,101,200 6,227,227 5,746,332
Hits per notifications 0.0008803 0.0007932 0.0007945
Hits 341 353 397
Notifications 137,646 143,839 131,467
Hits per notifications 0.00248 0.00245 0.00302
Hits 480 375 488
Notifications 59,468 58,749 59,135
Hits per notifications 0.00807 0.00698 0.00825

Cause of damages

The number one cause of underground utility hits/damages is that excavators do not call for locates. This has been consistent for the last five years. Contractors have crews ready to work but may not have locates because they are late or were not requested in the first place. Therefore they take a chance and proceed to dig without locates. In addition, 43 per cent of hits are due to poor excavation practices.

Suggested solutions

I believe there are some actions that need to happen before we will substantially reduce the number of hits and the cost that comes with them. First, the industry has to solve the late locate problem. Provincial law requires locates to be on the ground within five-days, but some locators fail to comply. These companies should be penalized or fined according to the law and we must also hold them accountable by maintaining a list of offenders and making it readily available so our industry can see who the culprits are. Lastly, we need to continue to educate contractors on Dig Safe practices.


You can help spread the word to other contractors about this important issue by joining the Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) and participating in Safe Excavation Training programs. Watch for specific training sessions this fall.
Terry Murphy CLM