View from the Board - Learning to dig safely can save lives

0 64 OH&S

by Don Schouten last update:Oct 9, 2014

Beneath the surface of the earth runs a complicated labyrinth of pipes and cables transporting anything from oil and gas to electricity and telecommunication services.
Don Schouten
Don Schouten

These mazes are complex and constantly changing with the rise of infrastructure, construction and improvement projects throughout the province.

But, as these projects increase, so does the importance of understanding what’s under your feet before you break ground.

April is National Safe Digging Month and it gives us the opportunity to raise awareness around the importance of following safe digging practices.

These practices are for you, whether you’re a worker, employer or even a homeowner.

Industries around B.C. are often required to dig into the ground for various reasons.

Given the complexity and prevalence of the buried utilities, it’s of vital importance to know where it’s safe to dig and how to dig safely.

Hitting one of the pipes or cables could cause gas leaks, explosions, fires, and flooding, which can cause property damage and work delays.

Hitting these utilities can even cause serious injury or even death to workers or other bystanders.

In fact, WorkSafeBC documented 37 incidents of contact with underground utilities while digging in 2013 alone—25 of which had the potential to cause serious injuries.

Preventing the consequences of striking buried facilities is a responsibility we all share.

Organizations such as the B.C. Common Ground Alliance (BCCGA) have developed best practices for safe digging.

They have created a Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT), a tool which allows workers, employers, and companies to submit underground damage information online, including near-miss reports.

This allows industry to get a better understanding of the root causes behind incidents and how they can be prevented in the future.

B.C. One Call is another organization that can help.

Give them a call before you dig and they’ll put you in touch with people, who can give you the information you need on where underground utilities are located.

They can be reached, toll-free at 1-800-474-6886.

No matter how large or small the project is, make sure you know the location of all underground utilities prior to digging.

By doing so, we’ll prevent injuries and save lives.

WorkSafeBC is also a great resource for safety materials.

Visit the Safety at Work centre for construction at

Access safety tools such as toolbox meeting guides, videos, and many other construction safety resources.

I also encourage you to check out DIRT and all of the resources available at

Please let me know what you think of this or any construction safety issue.

I’d like to hear from you.

Don Schouten is the manager of Industry and Labour Services - Construction for WorkSafeBC. He is also a member of the Journal of Commerce. Send comments or questions to

last update:Oct 9, 2014

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