Damage Prevention to Underground Infrastructures: Clients’ Key Role


Damage prevention to underground infrastructures often starts with clear and accurate bid tenders. Clients play a major role in protecting these infrastructures.

Damage prevention to underground infrastructures is without a doubt a shared responsibility for all stakeholders, from clients to excavators. However, planned excavation work done according to standards will always remain the best way to avoid damages. The planning stage often entails clear and accurate bid tenders that identify from the start, what lays underground.

We can imagine that damages done to underground infrastructures can not only be annoying but costly for a municipality. Road closures, traffic light failures and interruptions of essential services (telecommunication, electrical or gas) for example, have a direct impact on the quality of life of its citizens when underground infrastructures are damaged. In Quebec, municipalities are without a doubt the largest clients with regards to major excavation work. Since they are obligated to issue bid tenders for any contract that exceeds $25,000, why not systematically include plans for locating underground infrastructures when issuing bid tenders, especially since these plans can be accessed free?

CIRANO, a research group, assessed that damaged underground infrastructures in Quebec have an annual cost of more than 120 million dollars in direct and indirect costs and 32% of these damages required the intervention of municipal emergency services. Furthermore, 80% of damages entail service interruptions, while 73% of them were done on a street located in an urban area. According to Nathalie Moreau, General Manager, Prevention and Public Affairs at Info-Excavation, “clients often take for granted that contractors are obligated by the Safety Code related to the construction industry to get information on the location of underground infrastructures. Despite the contractor’s obligation, it doesn’t relieve the client from his responsibility to get information on the location of underground infrastructures before assigning contracts to third parties.”

A Valuable Reference Guide

Info-Excavation has developed, in collaboration with many professionals and experts tied to the protection of underground infrastructures, the Guide à l’intention des rédacteurs d’appels d’offres comprenant des travaux d’excavation [Writer’s Guide for Excavation Bids] and can be downloaded free from Info-Excavation’s Website.

“Generally speaking, a bid tender document identifies the nature of the excavation work that is to be carried out. Currently, however, excavation bids do not provide a context within which these excavations will take place as far as information and measures that could be taken to reduce damages to underground infrastructures as much as possible”, explains Mrs. Moreau. The Guide serves to support clients as well as other public service providers wishing to protect their underground infrastructures more efficiently.

The Guide aims, through bid tender documents for excavation work, to recommend the integration of specific provisions that could increase the protection of underground infrastructures as well as improve the safety of citizens and workers alike. It complements existing requirements and information related to excavation work that are contained within plans and quotations as well as in general administrative and commercial provisions normally provided by the client during the different processes for acquiring excavating services. “The Guide makes recommendations to ensure that best practices constitute an integral part of bid tender documents involving excavation work”, says Mrs. Moreau.

Basic Principles

To prevent damages at the base, the client must obtain, from owners of underground infrastructures, information and documentation that are relevant to the location and nature of underground infrastructures within the worksite where excavating is scheduled. Should the client not have all the required information, he must then implement engineering work, including a physical locate, so as to obtain and include them in the bid tender documents.

The client must supply one or more up-to-date plans showing and describing the nature and features of every underground infrastructure (existing or abandoned) that could interfere with the projected excavation work. “Ideally, plans of underground infrastructures must be drawn directly on bid tender plans or technical quotations”, explains Mrs. Moreau. To obtain plans of underground infrastructures, the client must first call Info-Excavation and owners of underground infrastructures that are not yet members of the organization. Since Quebec owners of underground infrastructures are not yet required to be members of Info-Excavation, they are not required to submit mappings of their underground infrastructures. The client should also note in his bid tender documents that even if plans are provided, it does not relieve the contractor of his responsibility to make a locate request at least three (3) days before excavating.

Finally, the document intended for writers of excavation bids helps to guide them in a clear and accurate manner, by identifying from the start of a project, the risks associated with the excavation work. Download now your free copy!

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