Ontario dig community seeks remedy for late locate issues

late locate

Ontario’s excavation community is looking to expedite the utility locate process throughout the province.

The Ontario Regional Common Ground Alliance (ORCGA) has been gathering input from stakeholders, including utility companies, excavators and locate service providers in an effort to improve upon locate times.

The cause of late locates throughout the province is complex. A short construction season, mixed with crowded underground infrastructure and a high volume of locate request is causing delays.

“Excavators are competitive. They value safety and quality, but they have to balance that with deadlines. So, waiting for locates means time is money,” said Jennifer Parent, manager of growth, councils and membership services for the ORCGA. “Some parts of the province are really constricted by time.”

From January to August, Ontario One Call received more than 800 formal late locate complaints. The previous year, more than 400 formal complaints were received in the same time period. The numbers do not include informal complaints received by Ontario One Call.  

“You can see the number is significantly higher in 2019. That’s not to say locates were later this year, we’re actually letting people know to file formal complaints, so there’s more complaints coming in, which makes our numbers higher,” said Crystal Bedore, training and education program coordinator for Ontario One Call. “I expect this will continue next year until the system is fixed.”

At a recent ORCGA Geographic Council meeting in Cambridge, Ontario, several issues were raised including inaccurate locates, late locates and a lack of enforcement when the work is not completed in a timely manner. For example, on new home builds, Enbridge is waiting an average five to nine weeks for a locate, which is causing homebuilders to miss their closing dates. A utility company must make all “reasonable attempts” to complete a locate are supposed to be completed in five days, according to the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act.

Late locate symposium

Following the province-wide consultations, a late locate symposium was held in Guelph in December. The results of the meeting are expected to roll out in 2020.

“We’re bringing in some higher up individuals from some of our major companies we work with to see if we can find new and creative ways to address late locate,” Bedore said. “Hopefully we will be able to get some concrete resolutions. And have some people in the room that can make significant changes in their organizations to address some of the issues we’re having.”

Late locate remedies

Several solutions are suggested to alleviate locate concerns. For large construction projects, excavators are encouraged to pay upfront for a dedicated locator. 

“This is for somewhere you would need a locator on site for several days. It’s been very successful on the LRT project,” Bedore said.

Alternate locate agreements are another solution, which allows low risk work like shallow depth digging or hydrovac use to find alternative solutions.

As well, a course is in development to help excavators make more accurate map selections and ticket details.

Regional workload planning is also under way in the areas of Ontario where late locates have had the largest impact. In Ottawa, Hamilton, London and Sudbury, meetings were held with infrastructure owners to determine workload for 2020.

“Everyone in the room was familiar with what work is going to take place so they can plan their workloads and their hiring,” Bedore said. “We’ll see next year how that works out.”

Possible solutions

There are also several solutions that have been requested by Ontario’s dig community. For example, mandatory training and certification for excavators and regulatory enforcement of locate times.

“This came up in discussion at quite a few tables,” Parent said.

The creation of a central map database of utilities has also been requested.

“That is years away probably but it’s something that has been asked for many times,” Parent said.

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When a locate is complete, extending its validity to 180 days is also an option. Quebec is currently running a pilot project to determine the effectiveness of extending a locate expiration date. 

“We’ll be watching what happens in Quebec very closely,” Parent said.

For locators, the establishment of a trade and a college program is being considered.

“Locators are providing information that could have life or death consequences. Why isn’t there more vigorous training around this trade?” Parent said.  

Furthermore, locators may see changes to the occupation’s pay structure.

“They have a lot of pressure put on them and they have vital information they are decimating,” Parent said. “Why isn’t their pay structure reflecting that?”