Protecting our Underground Infrastructure

When the goal is a single outcome, a common starting point is critical. For example, how effective would a stop sign be if it was a different colour and shape in every city, province, state and country around the world? Chances are, it would be far less effective than it currently is. And, if it didn’t exist at all, the risks would be unimaginable.

Damage prevention legislation is like that. It requires consistency across jurisdictions to be effective.

Ultimately, underground infrastructure provides the necessities of our existence. Yet in most provinces, there is little consideration given to how it must be protected from ground disturbance. One-Call, or notification centres, exist from the Pacific to the Atlantic, yet for the most part, registering buried facilities with those centres is not mandatory. This forces excavators to make individual locate requests to multiple operators of buried infrastructure to initiate the damage prevention process rather than making one locate request to the One-Call centre providing services to the province. The absence of mandatory registration and mandatory locate requesting increases the risk of damage to Canada’s critical buried infrastructure, creates unnecessary safety risks for Canadians and is a burden to Canada’s economy.

The absence of mandatory registration and mandatory locate requesting increases the risk of damage to Canada’s critical buried infrastructure.

The absence of mandatory registration and mandatory locate requesting increases the risk of damage to Canada’s critical buried infrastructure.

Bill S-229, The Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Act aims to change that.

The Act is based on three fundamental principles: federally regulated underground infrastructure must register with a notification centre (One-Call centre); locate requests must be made to a notification centre prior to ground disturbance; and, response from the underground infrastructure owner in relation to those locate requests is required. It sounds simple enough – and in many respects, it is – but there is a lot more to the damage prevention process than these three fundamental points.

The Act also provides that federal departments governing underground infrastructure will cultivate a damage prevention mandate to further govern the integrity of Canada’s underground infrastructure critical to our everyday lives. There are also provisions for penalties and enforcement of the same; however, education, awareness and prevention of a recurrence, and not monetary penalties, is the primary goal.

Bill S-229 is the type of smart policy that all decision makers can get behind. It is a simple piece of legislation that will strengthen public and employee safety and reduce societal, economic and business costs, all with inconsequential costs to government.

Mr. Michael (Mike) Sullivan is the President of Alberta One-Call Corporation and Executive Director of the CCGA since 2010.