Utility Safety Partners provides locate request services to Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. In Alberta, the organization is all things related to utility safety, dig safe awareness, education and location information to protect people and infrastructure from coming in contact with overhead and underground infrastructure. Formed January 1, 2021, it combines three complementary partner organizations – Alberta One-Call Corporation, the Alberta Common Ground Alliance and the Joint Utility Safety Team. Trans Mountain is a member of Utility Safety Partners, as well as dig safe organizations in BC and Washington state

“Click Before You Dig” or clickbeforeyoudig.com was established in 2011 to help those engaging in ground disturbance activities connect with owners and operators of underground infrastructure. The website provides a one-window approach to the online locate request process from every province and state in North America.

We sat down with the organization’s President Mike Sullivan to learn more about Click Before You Dig, Utility Safety Partners and its services.

How did “Click Before You Dig” emerge?

In 2010, I helped lead the Canadian Common Ground Alliance’s efforts to bring three-digit locate request dialing or “811” to Canada. 811 is a nationwide call before you dig number in the United States. However, in Canada this line was already allocated to TeleHealth and we needed an alternative. Realizing that everything is moving online, I purchased the Click Before You Dig URL for quick, efficient web access to provincial One Call centres for requests to locate infrastructure. As a result, we saw an immediate increase in web locate requests from less than 30 per cent to 65 per cent in the first month alone.

Why is it important for people to click or call before they dig?

It's more than just a slogan, it's an action statement. It’s ultimately about protecting the public, workers and communities and ensuring everyone’s safety when working near buried utilities. Our message is Click Before You Dig, and everyone who is planning work needs to know where buried lines are located. By offering Click Before You Dig, we reduce risk of damage, raise awareness and keep people and communities safe. We cater to all audiences and we encourage people to choose a method that works best for them, whether it be placing an online request or picking up the phone. If you plan to disturb the ground or undertake surface work, it is critical you submit a locate request before you begin any project.

How many locate requests does Utility Safety Partners receive in a year?

Last year, we processed nearly 800,000 locate requests for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, including over 450,000 from Alberta alone. While about 85 per cent of all Alberta locate requests originate online – including requests from homeowners, members and contractors – Utility Safety Partner member and contractor locate requests are an incredible 98 per cent online.

What kind of infrastructure do Utility Safety Partners members represent today?

Currently, we have 850 members who have registered the location of their infrastructure with USP, including transmission oil and gas pipelines, distribution gas lines, sewer, water, electrical, telecommunications and overhead power lines. We also have non-asset members who are engaged in improving the damage prevention process in Alberta, including training providers, locating and marking contractors and public awareness representatives.  

How often do damage incidents occur in Alberta? 

Damages unfortunately continue to occur and they are largely because the person digging didn’t request a locate. When you Click Before You Dig, utility owners are notified of the proposed ground disturbance, assess it to determine the best path forward to prevent damage, and will either locate and mark their buried assets or provide you with applicable permits.

The cost of repairing damaged infrastructure can be significant, but the hidden costs are far greater. Every year, societal costs – evacuation, loss of business, loss of service, environmental damage and reclamation – amount to billions of dollars across Canada and between $250 – $325 million every year in Alberta. People must practice Click Before You Dig. It will cost you nothing but failing to click or call could cost you everything. It could disrupt services in communities and create hazards for yourself and those around you.

What is the next step for your organization in terms of raising awareness?

Every year, we spend roughly $350,000 on advertising. Our radio advertising for Dig Safe Month is active on 43 radio stations across Alberta right now promoting dig safe practices. We have a sizable social media following, with about 2,700 followers on Twitter alone. We are active on many platforms and this is since many people are already online. They're online requesting locates and we have an electronic newsletter called Click to Know What's Above and Below that goes to over 70,000 subscribers every month. We also have three Safety Ambassadors working in Calgary and Edmonton. They are our “boots on the ground” representatives meeting with DIY stores, contractors, home builders, real estate representatives and anyone who might be engaged in a ground disturbance in those high population centres. Utility Safety Partners is in the process of moving forward with the development of draft damage prevention legislation and we want your feedback. We believe in providing transparency to our members and the public for their feedback so we can keep our provinces and people safe. You can join one of our committees here.