On-Site Magazine

Underground utilities on damaging trend

By Adam Freill   

Construction Infrastructure

Common Ground Alliance’s DIRT report highlights correlation between investment in infrastructure and increased excavation-related damage to buried utilities.

PHOTO: Adobe Stock/Artist Photographer

Damages to underground utilities, which pose severe risks to public safety and interrupt commerce, have trended upward over the past three years, says Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a non-profit trade association dedicated to protecting underground utility lines and people who dig near them.

The organization revealed concerning increases across key damage indicators as it announced the findings from its 2022 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) report.

The annual report provides a comprehensive accounting and analysis of damages to buried infrastructure in Canada and the U.S. to help stakeholders understand the current damage landscape and the factors contributing to underground facility damages. As excavation activity continues to increase, the report underscores the importance of addressing the ongoing causes of damages to vital facilities to drive these damage numbers down.

The report is an analysis of all 2022 data submitted voluntarily to DIRT by facility operators, utility locating companies, 811 centre, contractors, regulators and others from Canada and the U.S. and contextualized the data as part of a three-year trend analysis covering 2020 to 2022.


Findings indicate that excavation activity continues to increase as work is underway to improve infrastructure and add to the building stock. Three-year modelling reveals that damages per construction spending rose 12.35 per cent and damages per 1,000 transmissions rose 9.34 per cent between 2021 and 2022. A regression analysis of consistent 2020 to 2022 data that considered additional variables including weather, population and infrastructure density suggested that damages were at best flat, and likely increasing.

The analysis of 2022 data indicates that a few persistent challenges are responsible for roughly three-quarters of the damages that occur. This included failing to use call-before-you-dig services, failure to pothole and/or maintain sufficient clearance, navigating unmarked or inaccurately marked facilities, and improper excavation practices. The organization says focusing industry efforts and outreach on these top challenges is key to making measurable progress in reducing damage and near-miss incidents.

“Earlier this year, we challenged the industry with the ambitious goal of reducing damages by 50 per cent over the next five years,” said CGA president and CEO Sarah Magruder Lyle. “The findings of the DIRT Report are critical to focusing the industry on key areas contributing to more than three-quarters of all damages to buried infrastructure. To make significant change and reverse damage rates, it’s critical that our industry rapidly adopts the recommendations outlined in this report to target the most persistent challenges.”

The complete DIRT Annual Report for 2022 is available for download at dirt.commongroundalliance.com. Stakeholders interested in submitting data to the 2023 Report or establishing a Virtual Private Dirt account can visit the DIRT site at www.cga-dirt.com.





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