PO BLOG

Streamlining Damage Prevention

Published in February, 2019

Standardized regulations will make pipelines and other underground infrastructure safer.

By Mike Sullivan

When the goal of a multi-stakeholder group is a single outcome, a common starting point is critical, and simplicity is key. The more complicated a process gets, the greater the likelihood of a scattered and ineffective result. For example, consider the common stop sign. We all know precisely what to do when we encounter one. The word on the sign is almost meaningless thanks to the sign’s common octagon shape and red-and-white colouring. Any subtle change to the sign, perhaps to its height or size, and our brains take an extra few milliseconds to process the difference in order to generate the sign’s command.

How effective would the common stop sign be if it was a different colour, size and shape in every city, province, state and country around the world? It would be far less effective than it 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; and when it doesn’t exist, the risks are tangible.

Ultimately, underground infrastructure provides the necessities of our existence. Yet, 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 but for the most part, registering buried facilities with those centres isn’t mandatory. There is a lack of legislative governance mandating registration with a notification centre and requiring any person digging to request a locate from that centre. This unnecessarily increases the risk of damage to Canada’s critical buried infrastructure, creates needless safety risks for Canadians and is a burden to Canada’s economy.

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. Without a locate request to trigger the damage prevention process, the unseen efforts behind the scenes to protect pipe, cables, wires and telecommunication systems never get a chance to occur.

Now that the Act has been tabled, it provides other jurisdictions in Canada with all encompassing damage prevention language to achieve regulatory symmetry. Whether a cable or a pipeline is federally or provincially regulated, there is little need to be different. The more similar the language, the better chance it has to be effective—just like the stop sign.

Mike Sullivan is the president of Alberta One-Call Corp. and executive director of the Canadian Common Ground Alliance.