Stories and news from FortisBC
What happens after you hit a natural gas line?
November 8, 2019
Updated March 31, 2021
These days, most contractors and homeowners know they can avoid hitting natural gas lines by clicking or calling BC 1 Call and following directions to locate buried utility lines. They dig by hand to expose the lines before going ahead with their gardening, landscaping or construction projects.
But sometimes people don’t contact BC 1 Call, or they do but they can’t find the line so they give up and just start their project. Big mistake! If you can’t find the natural gas line using the directions you get, contact us and we’ll come out and find it for you, free of charge.
When contractors accidentally damage a natural gas line, our damage prevention investigators—Dave Albrecht, Tara Garrett, Ron Field and Mark Lawson—may investigate, especially when the contractor involved has hit gas lines more than once. We asked them what happens before and after they arrive:
1. Anyone near the damaged gas line must turn off any equipment and other potential sources of ignition, get away from the site and call 911, or FortisBC’s emergency line: 1-800-663-9911.
As our investigators stressed, the only people who should go near a damaged gas line are FortisBC crews. If you’ve hit a natural gas line, don’t try to contain the gas. Get away from it as quickly as possible.
2. A FortisBC crew will repair the natural gas line, and if needed, a damage prevention investigator will examine the scene and speak with anyone involved.
[Editor’s note: any time a gas line is repaired FortisBC crews must enter affected homes and businesses to relight gas appliances. Understand what this means for you during the COVID-19 crisis.]
“I’m there to understand the root cause of why it occurred and try to help the person who damaged the line,” Dave said. “The best part is actually dealing with the contractors and helping them avoid problems in the future. I’ve found the contractors are almost 100 per cent receptive to my suggestions.”
The other investigators heartily agreed with this sentiment.
“I like the interaction with the contractors,” Ron said. “They understand we’re trying to help them not make a mistake a second time.”
3. The investigator sends a report to Technical Safety BC.
“We don’t determine who’s at fault,” Mark says. “We report what we’ve seen and heard, and provide photos. We let Technical Safety make their own determination.”
Technical Safety BC may fine homeowners and contractors who damage utility lines. FortisBC may pursue those who damaged gas lines to cover the repair costs.
4. The investigator may also report the incident to WorkSafeBC.
Our damage prevention investigators decide if they’ll report incidents to WorkSafeBC on a case-by-case basis. If they believe a contractor is willfully negligent, it’s their duty to report this for the sake of that contractor’s safety, as well as the public and FortisBC crews.
“Contractors are busy, they’re out there digging every day and some just don’t want to wait for FortisBC gas line location information because time is money. Those are the incidents we refer to WorkSafeBC,” said Mark.
5. The investigator may follow up, offering information and resources to help prevent contractors from hitting another natural gas line.
There are many myths about digging safety. When our investigators aren’t investigating incidents, they’re out visiting job sites and educating local contractors whenever possible. They also revisit contractors who’ve damaged lines.
“The job is both reactive and proactive,” Dave says. “For repeat damagers, I follow up to ensure they’re taking actions to prevent damage.”
All of our investigators are retired RCMP investigators with decades of experience. While their former and current jobs both involve investigation, they told us they’re very different experiences in many ways.
“A contractor who has hit a gas line might be tense when you first approach them, and then they simmer down and they’re very nice,” Tara says. “At my old job the people being investigated were always on the defense. I like the people I’m dealing with now; it’s a nice change. My dad was a contractor and all my uncles were contractors, so I approach them the way I’d want my dad to be treated… I love the job, I really do.”
While our FortisBC damage prevention investigators are happy to educate contractors about safe digging, you can avoid meeting them by clicking or calling before you dig and carefully following directions. If you want to know what to expect, read one homeowner’s experience about what actually happens when you click or call BC 1 Call. And, FYI, you get your information in about three days – and the service is free.