Dig Safe has made significant strides in raising awareness about safe digging practices across Ontario and Canada over the past few years, and the Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) hoping to build on its success with a big push to promote Dig Safe Month in April even before it takes place.
"Dig Safe stands for call before you dig, wait for your locates, respect the marks and dig with care," explained Ian Munro, president and CEO of the ORCGA. "With that message, we're trying to enhance public safety and infrastructure reliability through a unified approach to effective and efficient damage prevention."
Since the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act was passed in 2012, there has been an improvement and notification numbers are up, said Munro.
"There's more people calling through the call centre," he said. "We also know in the last nine years we've been tracking damages and there's been a 37 per cent decrease. We still have 4,400 damages in the province of Ontario per year that we know about. It used to be well over 6,000. There's still work to be done. There are 4,400 too many."
Dig Safe Month is designed to coincide with the unofficial start of spring digging season in April. The campaign targets homeowners, small contractors and excavators.
"The Dig Safe campaign is targeting anyone who is excavating but the Dig Safe Month in April tends to focus more on the homeowners, the small contractors working for homeowners because April is a nice time of the year and people are excited about getting outside and doing work on their properties," Munro explained.
Dig Safe has been trying to get the message out throughout the year in a variety of ways, including mayoral proclamations through municipalities, flag raisings and posting information where contractors generally go such as hardware stores and local restaurants.
The ORCGA has 13 different geographic councils throughout the province of Ontario including Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara/Hamilton, Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Sarnia. During Dig Safe month in April, members and geographic councils will be leading local awareness campaigns across the province about safe digging practices and reminding people to call before they dig.
"Our reports, with the rest of Canada especially, show that as a province, we are leading in terms of the least amount of damages per 1,000 locate requests and what they call locate notifications," said Munro.
The ORCGA and its members are encouraging homeowners and contractors to call for locates before they dig on any project, large or small, to prevent injuries, property damage and inconvenient outages. There is an underground network of gas lines, telephone, electricity and cable TV wires, as well as water and sewer connections that could be damaged if you dig in the wrong spot, a risk people sometimes take, Munro said.
"You take a day like today where we need our furnaces for heat and we need electricity for our stoves, and our telecommunications for Internet and water and sewer, all of these things we take for granted, if they are damaged then they could be out of service for several days and people can be inconvenienced," said Munro, adding it's a matter of public safety. "You could have an explosion, a fire, an electrocution, a business out of service, no water to a hospital or a major institution."
If somebody does call for a locate, 99.9 per cent of the time there won't be any damage, he pointed out.
"That's a big thing, because we still see that a large percentage of our damages are as a result of nobody requesting a locate, or many request a locate but then they don't wait," said Munro. "They don't dig with care. Three quarters of our damages are as a result of nobody calling or not digging carefully."
The ORCGA has partnered with the Canadian Common Ground Alliance to promote Dig Safe and make it consistent across the country.
"We want to promote Dig Safe right across Canada so that whether an excavator or homeowner is working in Ontario or Manitoba, Quebec or out east or west, they know what Dig Safe means," said Munro. "What's gaining a lot of traction now is click before you dig. We want to get more people to just go online, you can log your locate request in. It's free and its 24/7. We want to increase that awareness of digging safely and enhancing public safety for everyone."