Every year, thousands of buried facilities are accidentally damaged across Canada. It’s not a new phenomenon – a watermain break, an electrical outage in one neighborhood or another. You might even see it on the news; a pipeline leaks and affects the radius of farmland, the local wildlife, and the neighboring town. It happens, and most us don’t even take notice. However, these incident’s effects aren’t always so easily brushed off. They can lead to significant environmental impact, injury, and even death.
In 2013, in Toronto, a harrowing 90-minute, 60-firefighter rescue team saved two construction workers from a collapsed trench. The endings of these stories aren’t always so lucky, however. In the same month as the two construction workers were rescued, a worker died in Westmount, Quebec. He was engulfed when a wooden retaining wall collapsed into the trench he was working in, succumbing to his injuries later. In 2014, a Toronto sewer service installer didn’t even make it out of the trench before he perished, and was buried by a slab of concrete (Kucharsky, 2014).

We can say that those two workers in Toronto in 2013 were lucky, or that the sewer service installer was unlucky. The truest statement, however, is that these situations were entirely preventable. It wasn’t just the luck of the draw.

Luck vs. Compliance

By implementing and complying with proactive ground disturbance damage prevention processes, your organization can ensure that your employees work safe, and leave their sites as hazard-free as when they entered. If your organization, or any of your subcontractors, intend to engage in ground disturbance, be proactive and do your due diligence; ensure that you have an effective damage prevention program, and that it’s supported with proper training. You can help your employees learn how to work safe, and go home alive.

Ground Disturbance Basics

A ground disturbance is any work, operation, or activity that results in a disturbance of the earth, or that result in a reduction of the initial installation cover over a buried facility. This industry-adopted term is an inclusive catch-all for activities that disturb the ground, replacing the narrower term, excavation. According to CSA Z247 Damage Prevention for the Protection of Underground Infrastructure, you’re disturbing the ground if you’re:

  • Digging
  • Excavating
  • Trenching
  • Ditching
  • Tunneling
  • Boring, drilling, or pushing
  • Auguring
  • Topsoil stripping
  • Land levelling or grading
  • Plowing to install underground infrastructure
  • Tree planting
  • Clearing and stump removal
  • Subsoiling
  • Blasting or using of explosives
  • Quarrying
  • Grinding and milling of asphalt or concrete
  • Conducting seismic exploration
  • Driving fence posts, bars, rods, pins, anchors, or pilings
  • Crossing buried pipelines or other underground infrastructure by heavy loads off the travelled portion of a public roadway

Any act of disturbing the ground deeper than 300 mm (12″) is deemed a ground disturbance, where there’s a risk of hitting underground facilities.

Implementing Damage Prevention

When you develop, implement, and comply with a damage prevention program, your company will prevent damage to buried infrastructure. Your program needs policies, processes, procedures, and other damage prevention techniques specific to the work your employees do. It’s recommended that damage prevention programs include (but are not limited to):

  • Public awareness
  • Hazard management
  • Surveillance and monitoring
  • Crossings
  • Organizational structure
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Management
  • Competency and training requirements
  • Contractor selection process
  • Performance monitoring
  • Communication, implementation and operation of the damage prevention program

For more information, we recommend reading CSA Z247, which can be purchased and downloaded from the Canadian Standards Association website , accessing the Alberta Common Ground Alliance’s resources on their website, or taking SafetyVantage’s Ground Disturbance for Supervisor’s course, which provides an in-depth understanding of ground disturbance, it’s related hazards, and damage prevention, so you can take luck out of the workplace, and trust in safety, instead.

About SafetyVantage

SafetyVantage is a leading provider of technology-based educational curriculum and assessment solutions for the occupational health and safety (OHS) industry. Well-known for providing practical, engaging, and relevant solutions, the Alberta-based company has significant expertise and experience in the OHS compliance and training space.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: SafetyVantage provides information about topical OH&S issues to assist existing and potential customers to cope with their own OH&S needs. SafetyVantage believes that the information and guidelines provided are consistent with industry practices at the time the information was compiled. It is not intended to be legal information or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your situation