“Together we are stronger and safer.”

That is the message from the BC Common Ground Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing damage to underground pipes, cables and conduits. They work alongside regulators, government, utility companies, construction groups and others with an interest in promoting safety for underground infrastructure.

We spoke with Dr. Dave Baspaly, the Executive Director of the BC Common Ground Alliance (BCCGA), to find out more about the organization and its mission.

What is the main role of BCCGA?

We believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together to develop safe and consistent practices. So, we lead a number of education and awareness initiatives to ensure the highest possible standards of worker safety, public safety and damage prevention in connection with underground infrastructure.

We also collect statistics related to damages that occur and work with government officials with the hope that one day it will be mandatory for all ground disturbers to contact BC 1 Call before they dig so they are aware of what lies beneath the ground and can prevent damage to these facilities. While it’s already a legal requirement to make that contact if you’re digging near a federally regulated pipeline, such as Trans Mountain, we want that to be the case for all underground infrastructure.

What has been a key area of focus over the past few years?

We spend a lot of time following the data and targeting our efforts around the ground disturbance trends. What seems to come up most frequently in our damage statistics are fairly small projects – someone with a backhoe completing a fence install or fence repair on a residential property or a farm.

Not all homeowners are aware they have a responsibility to dig safely to prevent damage to underground infrastructure. We’ve been working with our stakeholders to develop cross-platform initiatives such as the “Preventable” campaign, which has been quite successful at getting the message out there in a really creative way.

The Canadian CGA puts out the annual Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report. What are the statistics telling you?

The DIRT Report is a useful tool to determine the root causes of damages that have taken place so we can develop mitigating measures and targeted education campaigns to reduce or eliminate incidents from occurring. The annual reports show we’re getting better every year at reducing the number of incidents, but there’s still a lot of work to do.

The 2020 report showed that we’ve moved the needle on large and medium-sized construction companies – they know that safety is the cost of doing business. Where we’re still having a problem today is with the small contractor. That’s because they are much more likely to get caught in a situation where it’s either take the job or take the time to find out what’s below them before they start working.

BC 1 Call has a three-day turnaround for locate requests, but some contractors are not given the time to wait for a response. That’s why we have been asking provincial government officials to make it mandatory to contact BC 1 Call before breaking ground so there’s a level playing field for contractors. Government is showing an increased interest in getting involved in this space and figuring out what their role should be in BC, as they have in other jurisdictions. At the end of the day, we believe there is a responsibility for government to invest in safety.

What is your main message for people, whether it be a homeowner or a contractor?

Safety needs to be the guiding principle.

The most important message we can get out there is – call or click before you dig. When you contact BC 1 Call, you will be put in touch with the owners of the underground pipes, cables and facilities who are members of BC 1 Call. They will let you know where the infrastructure is located around your dig site and the blind spots you’re likely to be aware of.

It’s about the environment, the safety of workers and the general public, and the continuity of our community services, such as heat, drinking water and internet access. There’s quite a bit at stake here when we talk about making sure things are done right.