FortisBC’s damage prevention team reminding British Columbians to dig safely
April is Safe Digging Month in B.C., and FortisBC’s damage prevention officers are reminding everyone to reach out to BC 1 Call before digging, excavating or disturbing the ground in any way, to gather information on the location of underground infrastructure.
Having that information and following safe digging practices reduces the risk of injury, avoids interrupting essential services and prevents costly repairs.
“We are there to educate and provide information,” shared Tara Garrett, damage prevention officer with FortisBC.
“We’re trying to prevent mistakes from happening. But mistakes do happen and we never want to make anyone feel bad for that so we’re there to help educate so those mistakes don’t happen twice. We want everyone to always keep themselves and each other safe.”
FortisBC has a team of four damage prevention officers working year-round, based throughout the province. These officers attend incidents of damaged natural gas lines, investigate the cause, interview those involved, document the incident and work with regulators on potential punitive measures such as fines.
And that reactive component is just a small part of the job. The much larger component is proactive education and helping workers avoid underground lines. FortisBC’s damage prevention team attends tailgate meetings and participates in trade schools, such as International Union of Operating Engineers.
They’ve even had global training organizations invite them to take part, educating new students getting into the trades sector on safe excavation practices before these students ever start work.
“We might be a small team, but we collaborate with so many organizations,” added Ron Field, damage prevention officer with FortisBC.
“Internally with our operations teams, and externally with regulators, WorkSafe BC, BC 1 Call, first responders, other utilities and so many others, it really is a team effort to help reduce damages to underground utilities and help keep the public safe.”
The team’s efforts are working. For the first time in 20 years, damages to FortisBC’s underground gas system fell below 900 in 2022, with 896 instances of British Columbians damaging underground utility lines.
Approximately 70 per cent of damages were from those who did not contact BC 1 Call before digging.
The damage prevention team stresses they want the number of damages to be lower every year and that approximately 90 per cent of damages to gas lines are easily preventable. The first step is to always call BC 1 Call before you dig.
Gas lines can be damaged with any ground disturbance – even basic gardening could pose a risk if safe digging practices are not followed. On average, however, around 70 per cent of damages to natural gas lines across the province are by contractors.
The team adds that, as prevention, education and investigations take up so much attention, it’s important to reflect on the positive interactions.
Mark Lawson, damage prevention officer at FortisBC recounted one such incident:
“We often introduce ourselves to contractors as we see them digging. On one occasion, I remember a contractor digging with an excavator in the front yard of a residence. I said hello and he turned to me and said, ‘Do you want to see my BC 1 Call ticket?’ With a smile on my face, I said ‘Sure.’ He showed me his printed ticket, where he had painted the ground with yellow paint and where he had already dug by hand to expose the line. He must have seen the surprised look on my face because he said ‘This is my normal procedure. At the end of the day, we all want to go home without getting hurt.’ He was a young man and just kind of put me in my place. I suddenly had a lot less to worry about.”
Residents and contractors can contact BC 1 Call by visiting their website or calling 1-800-474-6886. Anyone planning on digging should reach out to BC 1 Call at least three business days before starting work to gather information on buried utility lines in their area. It is free to contact BC 1 Call and request location information.