5 cautionary tales to ensure safe digging

July 13, 2021


Think you know where the gas and other utility lines are? Maybe, after years of digging, you’ve never damaged a line? Perhaps you normally get a BC 1 Call ticket, but that one time, you decide to skip it and save yourself some time? When contractors or homeowners accidentally damage a natural gas line, our damage prevention investigators hear pretty much everything—from very innocent mistakes to pretty negligent errors.

Avoid making a dig mistake and learn from the cautionary stories of others. There’s more than one way to damage a line, but by making one click or call, you can avoid becoming another cautionary tale of someone who wishes they contacted BC 1 Call before they started digging.

1. The Experienced Excavator’s Tale

Our damage prevention investigators received a call in Nanaimo about a line being damaged and gas blowing so freely that the fire department had to be called. The line was damaged while a contractor was excavating to install water lines for a new home build. The on-site supervisor, who had 17 years of excavating experience, said he did not have a BC 1 Call ticket, and did not realize there was gas service in the area.

He also said he was surprised there was no sand or tape to warn him where the line was once he was underground. Long story short, avoid depending on experience or other indicators of a gas line you may have seen before. Always make sure you request your BC 1 Call ticket and receive information from all utility owners before you start digging.

Heavy duty machine digging inside trench.

2. The “Good Idea” Contractor’s Tale

What do you do when you’ve done everything correctly as a homeowner and called BC 1 Call to get your ticket—but your contractor decides not to use it? A homeowner had actually made the call three days ahead and assumed they’d checked all the boxes for their fence install.

When our damage prevention investigators showed up, the contractor said he was digging postholes with a shovel—not using his excavator. And instead of using the ticket the homeowner provided, he used his judgement, saying he had a “good idea” where the gas line was, based on the meter proximity and his experience. His good idea turned into a bad one fairly quickly when he damaged a gas line after striking it with a shovel. This is a good example of a ticket only being useful when it’s actually used.

3. The Realtor’s Tale

This story starts off with a routine that every realtor goes through once they acquire a client. The realtor hired a third party to put up a for-sale sign for her new listing. She used her regular supplier, without providing any details other than the address of the house.

The sign post installer was no novice; he had installed many for-sale posts for realtors. They had actually installed a sign at the same address a month ago. This time they damaged a gas line. Whenever anyone is doing any ground disturbance on your property, make sure they have a ticket—even when it’s just a simple for-sale sign or a contractor that’s been hired by someone else.

4. The Bobcat Operator’s Tale

The operator was employed by a paving stone company. Working by himself, he graded an area to prepare it for a parking pad. He was no rookie, though, and had completed many paving jobs in the same complex where he was working. The job seemed pretty routine, until it wasn’t.

Unaware of the gas line—not to mention the tech line below the gas line—he excavated and scraped down only 8-10 inches. But that was deep enough to cause damage. He assumed the gas line would be tight to the foundation, but BC 1 Call members1, such as FortisBC, could have easily provided maps and instructions on how to avoid damaging the gas line and other utilities. By following the instructions and exposing the buried cables and pipes by hand digging, he could have prevented damage and saved him time.

5. The Irrigation Tale

A power company employee was contracted by a homeowner to install new power poles. While he was using a truck-mounted auger to make a hole, he damaged a gas line. He did not hand dig, locate the gas line or have a BC 1 Call ticket. He took the word of the homeowner that there was no gas in the area.

He usually used BC 1 Call, but decided not to call because he was only digging poles and he was rushing for another contractor eager to start irrigation work on the site. The rush job turned into something much longer than it had to be. Forget relying on luck, always request a ticket with BC 1 Call and follow the instructions provided by the utility owners.

Heavy duty machine digging into the dirt.

The moral of all these stories is fairly obvious. The temptation to cut corners can end up costing you precious time and adding unnecessary costs to your project. We’d like to make sure that everyone is safe, so we’ll continue reminding you to click or call in as many ways as we can. Until next time, make sure all your digging stories have happy endings.

1 Please note that not all owners of underground infrastructure located in British Columbia are BC 1 Call members. BC 1 Call will notify all members who have underground infrastructure near your dig site, but it's your responsibility to contact and request information from other utility owners who are not BC 1 Call members. View the full member list.