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Buried facility damage prevention is another aspect of safety. Today, safety is an integral part of our corporate cultures; how we conduct our business on a daily basis. Damage prevention is following a similar path. More and more buried facility operators and members of the digging community are embracing damage prevention within their corporate cultures.


As recently as the late 1970s and early 1980s the digging community and the operators of buried facilities were usually in an adversarial situation when buried facilities were damaged during ground disturbance activities. Damages were automatically the fault of the ground disturber from the perspective of many buried facility operators.

The concepts that damage prevention is a shared responsibility, that all the stakeholders have roles and responsibilities in preventing damage during ground disturbance activities and that cooperation, coordination and collaboration are necessary for the process to be successful had not been put forward.

A very few individuals in Alberta were watching the development of the damage prevention process in the U.S. with interest.

The impetus to change usually requires a catalyst. On 02 March 1979, a high pressure propane pipeline ruptured in Millwoods, an Edmonton suburb, forcing the evacuation of 18,000 residents. The propane did ignite and one person was seriously burned. Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

The resulting investigation by the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) led to several key initiatives that set the stage for the current state of damage prevention in Alberta. The Millwoods incident was Alberta’s catalyst for change. “Buried

Facility Damage Prevention – Alberta’s Story” presents the time line for the evolution of buried facility damage prevention in Alberta within the context of the U.S. experience.

Alberta One-Call was incorporated in 1982 and began operations in 1984. It very quickly became recognized and accepted as the focal point of the damage prevention process in Alberta. During the ensuing 25 years Alberta One-Call, through its mandate, has successfully encouraged and fostered a cooperative approach among all stakeholders to the prevention of damage to buried facilities. The ABCGA will carry that effort to the next level.

The Damage Prevention Process in Alberta

This document was first published in 1994, by what is now the ABCGA, as “Call Before You Dig – Guidelines for Safe Excavations in Alberta”. Over the years it has undergone many revisions and was re-titled "The Damage Prevention Process in Alberta" in 2005.

In the absence of comprehensive damage prevention legislation in Alberta, The Damage Prevention Process is recognized as “industry standard” in the province.

It predates the Common Ground Study and the publication of the Common Ground Alliance’s Best Practices and although it is written in a narrative style its content comprises Alberta best practices within the context of a process.

By identifying the roles, responsibilities and expectations of the stakeholders in the damage prevention process, and how they are interrelated, the document reinforces that damage prevention is a shared responsibility.

Early Initiatives

The term “best practices” has become a catch phrase and the focus of the damage prevention industry in recent years. The primary push for the identification and validation of damage prevention best practices came from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the U.S. through a series of recommendations made to what was the Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) and is now the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) following investigations of pipeline incidents.

In September 1994, the NTSB and the OPS hosted a two day Excavation Damage Prevention Workshop in Washington DC that proved to be the precursor of the 1999 Common Ground Study. The workshop, attended by some 400 representatives of pipeline operators, utility operators, excavators, trade associations, local, state and federal government agencies and one-call centres, challenged the participants to identify and recommend ways to improve the damage prevention process. Facilitated groups were charged with:

  • What are the essential elements of an effective one-call notification centre?
  • What responsibilities should buried facility operators have?
  • What responsibilities should excavators have?
  • How should the program be administered?

The proceedings of the workshop (NTSB/RP-95/01) are only available in hard copy although the reports of the facilitated groups can be found in Appendix D of a subsequent document, Protecting Public Safety Through Excavation Damage Prevention, Dec 1997 (NTSB/SS-97/01).

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