July 15, 2018
By Terry Murphy CLM

Terry MurphyIn the last column, I provided recent statistics from the Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) 2017 DIRT Report. This annual publication contains all of the important statistics for the underground damage prevention industry. The more I look over the data within the report, the more questions I have about industry practices, safety training, the safety goals of individual businesses and our overall approach to reducing underground utility hits.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not complaining, but rather, I am questioning the industry’s ability to grab hold of a serious problem and solve it. Don’t forget, a recent nationwide study across Canada, revealed the annual social-economic costs to society for underground utility hits is more than $1 billion. Every single Canadian household and business is paying the bill for excavating contractors who forge ahead and dig before getting locates – a process that simply requires a them to make a telephone call to their local One Call office. The single root cause reason for many high-cost damages is failure of the contractor to not request locates. This root cause has not changed year after year. So what’s wrong?

Below are some statistics for the Ontario damage prevention industry that appear in the 2017 DIRT Report:
While the total increase in hits for the province increased about 12 per cent from 2016 to 2017, some may argue that increase doesn’t seem all that bad. But the numbers should be going down, not up. The stats also indicate the number of fencing hits had increased 18 per cent over the past two years. This sharper increase requires some immediate attention. Thankfully landscaping showed about a four per cent decrease, which is not great, but is certainly headed in the right direction. Homeowner stats also show a slight downward trend.

Where do we go from here?

We are now at the midpoint of the year and still have ample opportunity to influence the overall performance of all sectors for 2018. We need to improve our hit reduction efforts. Here are some things you may consider implementing in your own company to minimize the chances of hitting a utility this year:
  • Make calling ON1CALL for locates, and damage prevention, a subject for your company’s safety meetings.
  • Don’t just mention damage prevention and utility hits. Spend some time discussing the subject with your staff and ask them how they can help in reducing the number of hits.
  • Always call for locates, no matter what the circumstances are. It is a free service at no cost to you.
  • Post the above statistics on your company bulletin board so employees get a feel for the numbers and the magnitude of the problem.
  • Make sure employees know the social-economic cost for all Canadians is $1 billion annually and that they are the ones paying for this on their monthly utility bills (electric, gas, telephone, sewer, water, etc.).
  • If you have a utility hit in your company, discuss it with your team and see if you can learn from the experience. Ask how it could have been prevented.
  • All Landscape Ontario chapters could make underground damage prevention a topic for monthly chapter meetings. The subject needs more exposure and recognition in order to get more people on board to help with the solution.

Underground Utility Hits in Ontario 2015-2017

Once again, I really don’t understand why our hit reduction efforts have not been resulting in better results for the overall number of underground utility hits in the province. Our efforts include advertising ON1CALL on radio and TV, a display at Canada Blooms, monthly articles in Landscape Ontario magazine and Fence Focus. The need to call for locates is covered in the Horticultural Apprenticeship Training Program and a topic at meetings of the ORCGA’s 13 Geographic Council meetings, and at the annual ORCGA Symposium. What else can we do to get excavation contractors to call for locates and Dig Safe?

Hopefully, 2018 will be a the turning point and we will see the start of a major reduction in the number of underground utility hits in the province. We are doing our part. Are you?

Terry Murphy can be reached at tvmurphy@ca.inter.net.