Utility strikes increase, according to CGA’s DIRT report

A utility locator practices his skill

The Common Ground Alliance’s (CGA) 2022 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) report has revealed utility strike increases across key damage indicators.

The report found that damages to underground utility infrastructure, which pose severe risks to public safety and interrupt commerce, have trended upward over the last three years.

The annual DIRT Report provides a comprehensive accounting and analysis of damages to buried infrastructure in Canada and the United States 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. 

Three-year modelling from 2020-2022 reveals that damages per construction spending increased 12.35 per cent and damages per 1,000 transmissions increased 9.34 per cent between 2021 and 2022. 

A regression analysis of consistent 2020-22 data which considered additional variables including weather, population and infrastructure density further confirms that damages were at best flat and likely increasing. 

The report analyzed all 2022 data submitted voluntarily to DIRT from across North America and contextualized the data as part of a three-year trend analysis. 

Persistent challenges

The analysis of 2022 data indicates that a few persistent challenges are responsible for nearly 76 per cent of damages that occur, including no notification to the 811 centres; failure to pothole and/or maintain sufficient clearance; facilities not marked or marked inaccurately due to locator error; and other improper excavation practices. 

No-notification damages make up more than 25 per cent of all damages, with 77 per cent of no-notification damages attributed to professional excavators. Focusing industry efforts and outreach on these top challenges is key to making measurable progress in reducing damage and near-miss incidents. 

Recommendations to reduce utility strikes

The report urges stakeholders to commit to working within organizations and across stakeholder groups to generate new solutions to the persistent, systemic issues causing the most damage. Recommendations provided to address specific root cause groups included:

  • No-notification: Focus excavator outreach on behavioural change — namely consistent and effective use of 811 — and help restore excavator confidence in the system through improved locating processes. 
  • Excavation: Prioritize tolerance zone safety, address contracts to provide adequate compensation for potholing and provide excavators with access to map visualizations. 
  • Locator error: Enhance facility maps to GIS-grade, address contract structures to emphasize timeliness and accuracy, and increase efficiency through effective use of the 811 system. 

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The report also provides recommendations to enhance reporting and analysis of damages to better understand and address trends, including the implementation of standardized data collection and the creation of damage prevention indices to gauge progress over time. 

Stakeholders are also encouraged to participate in the Damage Prevention Institute’s (DPI) accreditation and peer review processes to help develop the next generation of industry performance metrics. 

“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 Common Ground Alliance is a member-driven association of nearly 3,200 individuals, organizations and sponsors in every facet of the underground utility industry. CGA has established itself as the preeminent source of damage prevention data and information to reduce damages to underground facilities in North America.