April 30, 2014 7:30 pm

Sask. utility companies first in Canada to patrol for unsafe digging

REGINA – Millions of dollars are lost each year in Saskatchewan due to people digging too close to underground utility lines. SaskEnergy, SaskPower and SaskTel have partnered to create a new type of enforcement – the first for utility companies in Canada.

Beginning May 1 until the end of October, patrol vehicles will be out in Regina and Saskatoon focusing on homeowners who either don’t call for line locates or who dig too close to them.

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“I think it’s a little bit about the excitement. You move into a new house and you want to fix it up and put that fence or deck in,” said Daryl Posehn, executive director of Saskatchewan Common Ground Alliance.

Last year, Saskatchewan Crown corporations lost $10 million in repairs and lost productivity due to damage to over 1,000 gas, power and phone lines.

Homeowners are responsible for footing the bill for damage to a utility line, which SaskEnergy says can cost between $3,000 and $25,000.

“We know that even today, there’s digging going on in this city and in Saskatoon where people haven’t called for locates,”  said Dave Burdeniuk, media relations with SaskEnergy.

“Sometimes it’s just luck that people don’t hit something.”

Despite numerous Know Before You Dig campaigns, utility companies are reporting an increase in the number of line hits in new neighbourhoods.

“Fences, decks, driveway, landscaping – that was one of the rising trends,” said Burdeniuk.

Although they won’t have the legal right to stop a homeowner like Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) has with contractors, patrol vehicles are going to be driving through Regina and Saskatoon scouting for people doing excavation work.

“Most professional contractors are aware of what’s required to dig safely and they do need to follow certain regulations,” said Barb Tchozewski, manager of Sask 1st Call.

“But those homeowners often aren’t aware or don’t understand.”

SaskEnergy hopes to reduce the number of hits to its lines by 10 per cent and Burdeniuk says if successful other provinces might consider a similar approach.

“No one else has attempted a proactive safety patrol like this. It is groundbreaking, literally,” said Burdeniuk.

Sask 1st Call will locate lines for free but needs at least two days notice.

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