Act Governing Damage Prevention – After Ontario, maybe Quebec?

Quebec Parliament building (Htel du Parlement) in winter Quebec city.

The Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Act is about to be tabled in the House of Commons while Ontario already has its own law since 2012. Where does Quebec stand?

The law in Ontario, which stipulates the obligation to get information on what lays below before excavating, has been in effect for five years. South of the border, this obligation exists in every state. On Parliament Hill, Bill S-229 has passed the Senate’s second reading in December 2016. Where does the Quebec government stand with regards to this legislation while it’s gaining ground elsewhere in the country? “Representations have been made to the provincial government to provide Quebec with an act regulating damage prevention to underground infrastructures. We believe that we can convince our elected representatives that the best way to prevent damages when excavating and the impacts such damages generate is to provide an Act that would clearly define the responsibilities of every stakeholder in the industry”, states Nathalie Moreau, General Manager, Prevention and Public Affairs at Info-Excavation.

An Established Organization

Info-Excavation, the only centre for damage prevention to underground infrastructures in Quebec, has come a long way in the last 25 years in terms of awareness and training for professionals in the excavating industry, clients and the public in general. Even if the number of locate requests has increased over the years, there are still more than five reported damages per day done to underground infrastructures. The two main reasons are the absence of making a locate request to Info-Excavation and an inadequate excavating method.

“Not all municipalities or private owners of underground infrastructures are members of Info-Excavation. If we don’t have access to municipal locate plans, the contractor will have to make a locate request directly with the municipality and try to guess what other owner of underground infrastructures he must contact, which complicates matters”, explains Mrs. Moreau, adding that there is still no law that requires excavators to make a locate request prior to excavating. “If they are responsible for damages done to an underground infrastructure, they will, of course, have to pay for repairing it, but it’s still not an obligation. Some construction standards do, however, mention it.”

For Info-Excavation, which currently consists of 76 Quebec municipalities, 101 network owners and 49 other industry stakeholders, the Underground Infrastructure Safety Enhancement Act should require all owners, public or private, to become members of Info-Excavation so that it continues to be a “one-point access” for damage prevention and localization, as for the One-Call centres in Ontario. The other major element of the future Act is obviously the obligation for everyone to make a locate request prior to excavating. “This is actually the basis of our national prevention program and is an essential tool for the safety of workers and the public while protecting our environment. We must not wait for a tragedy to happen, as was the case in many areas in North America, before legislation is passed to better circumscribe excavating practices”, states Mrs. Moreau.

Requiring Best Practices

The first cause of damages to underground infrastructures is inadequate excavating practices and the second is not making locate requests to Info-Excavation prior to excavating. Should the law include this last cause, it should also circumscribe excavating practices. “Making locate requests mandatory is a big, very big step in terms of damage prevention. But legislation must push forward, by making best practices mandatory where possible, so as to protect workers, citizens and the underground infrastructures. For example, soft excavation techniques should be prescribed whenever they are necessary. We are aware that a bill of such magnitude requires a lot of analysis, studies and reflection, but the time has come to consider damage prevention to underground infrastructures as a whole and implement damage prevention methodology in order to bring the industry’s stakeholders together”, concludes Mrs. Moreau.

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