Safety when digging around underground utility lines crucial as summer approaches

With warmer weather in the forecast and physical distancing requirements in effect, many British Columbians are taking advantage of the extra time at home to tackle outdoor home improvement projects. Before starting any project that disturbs the ground – such as building a retaining wall, planting a tree, or putting in fence posts – it’s imperative homeowners contact BC 1 Call first and find out what utility lines are below.

What is BC 1 Call?

Serving as the critical link between excavators and over 350 underground utility owners, BC 1 Call provides a free service to homeowners and excavators to request an underground utility locate before beginning any excavation project, no matter how small. Contacting BC 1 Call is the easiest way to reduce the risk of inadvertently damaging critical infrastructure, causing personal injury, and disrupting the services that our communities rely on, such as telecommunications, water, electricity, natural gas and sewage.

Importance of Digging Safely

According to the Damage Information Report Tool (DIRT) published in September 2019, almost half of all underground infrastructure damages were avoidable, caused because someone neglected to first find out from BC 1 Call what lay underground. In BC alone, there were 1,500 damaged underground utilities in 2018, which equates to an average of 6 per workday. In early April of this year, for example, three gas lines hit in one day on Vancouver Island alone. Two were the result of contractors not following safe digging procedures while completing residential projects, while the third was the result of a ‘for sale’ sign being ‘planted.’ Thank goodness no one was hurt.

When damage to underground infrastructure occurs, first responders and utility workers must be dispatched to assist in the event of an emergency and/or repair the utility line. These types of calls pull first responders from where they are needed most to attend to incidents that are completely avoidable. Repair crews are often unable to maintain safe physical distancing protocols while completing a repair, risking their health and safety as well. In some cases, such as the repairing of gas lines, maintenance crews also need to enter residents’ homes to reinstate natural gas service, putting both crew members and homeowners at greater risk.

How to Use BC 1 Call’s Service

Avoiding damage to underground utilities is a very simple process. Those planning to undertake any excavating activities should put in a free locate request to BC 1 Call through our website bc1c.ca or the toll-free number 1-800-474-6886. You will be provided with blue-print style maps and information from utility owners that show what underground infrastructure is within your dig site so you know where to dig by hand (that is, use non-powered tools and non-destructive excavation techniques) or avoid digging altogether. Locates must be requested a minimum of three business days before digging begins to allow all utility owners to get the necessary information to excavators.

Dig Safe Month 2020

Each spring, BC 1 Call, along with One Call centres and utility owners across Canada, focus efforts on educating the general public about using the locate service. This year, we planned, developed and implemented an informational campaign across different channels to improve awareness of BC1C’s service and to increase the number of locates requested by homeowners.

The campaign was a success as we saw a significant increase in locate requests, especially from homeowners, and reached thousands of British Columbians through various news outlets. In April, BC 1 Call received almost 19,000 locate requests from both homeowners and excavators combined – an increase of 1.7% compared to April 2019.

During the Easter long weekend alone, BC1C saw a 87% increase in locate requests from homeowners compared to the same weekend last year. Locates submitted by homeowners increased by 65.5% compared to the same period last year and online locates increased 83.4%, which demonstrates how advantageous the option to submit a ticket at any time is.

Safety is Key

While the increase in the use of our service is excellent news, more excavation projects need to involve the safe digging practice of pre-contacting BC 1 Call, and we urge you to do your part. Ask any contractors who are working for you whether they have contacted BC 1 Call, and kindly ask your neighbours who are taking on projects whether they have as well.

Now more than ever, we must take additional precautions when it comes to health and safety, going beyond just protecting ourselves from COVID-19. Do take advantage of the warm weather and the unexpected extra time to complete your outdoor projects, but please do so safely: use BC 1 Call’s free, simple service. Why risk avoidable injury, costs and inconvenience when you can just click or call us before you dig? It’s just not worth it.

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