Alternate Locate Agreements: How Ontario Incentivizes Safe Excavation

Preventing damage to underground infrastructure via excavation can be very complex. For some, it’s about finding a conflict between a proposed work area and the infrastructure and then telling the operator how to dig safely around it. The industry calls this a “truck roll.” Others are able to compare their infrastructure to the proposed dig site while in the comfort of an office and  provide clearance based on the excavator’s instructions. Typically, this is an “office clear.”

For a long time, those were the only two options: roll a truck and locate/clear something on site or clear it from an office. In Ontario, anyone who wishes to cause a ground disturbance must contact Ontario One Call, regardless of work type or depth.

Owners of Infrastructure (members) must sort through those call tickets and find those that have a high chance of damaging their infrastructure and put processes in place to ensure that does not happen. Members, therefore, need to spend more resources on high risk activity and less resources on lower risk activity.

Thanks to the CGA, we’ve seen that blanket exemptions from using the One Call system can create damages.

Enter the Alternate Locate Agreement (ALA), an agreement between two parties (the member and the excavator) where the two lay out under what terms the excavator can dig without a truck roll from the member. Upon the execution of this agreement, Ontario One Call provides the excavator a special number to quote when requesting locates and that number triggers an immediate response from the member.

These ALAs typically contain requirements like depth of excavation, limitation on types of tools, competence, proof of training, and other criteria. They are negotiated between the member and the excavator to the mutual agreement of both parties. Almost all members provide ALAs in places like Kingston, London and Vaughan. That means that an excavator with ALAs in those areas can contact Ontario One Call for a locate and potentially be digging five minutes later.

In Ontario, excavators commonly use ALAs for installing buried communication wires to service a home, vacuum excavation work and stump grinding. Members almost always come to the table with requirements such as depth, types of tools and attachments.

For example, hydro-vacuum excavators are typically limited to rotating nozzles under a particular pressure, but must also only be used for maintenance, repair or removal of existing infrastructure or daylighting infrastructure, or for utility pole replacement into the same hole.

But, an ALA is not for every member. Within the province of Ontario, electrical transmissions lines and transmission pipelines do not take part in the ALA program due to the balance
between risks and costs. All major gas distribution members use ALA’s, however.

Every year, more innovative ways for operators to dig into the ground come to market and so ALAs become ever-evolving documents. A one or two year expiration allows for members and excavators to discuss what new equipment would or would not be allowed in the agreement. The agreement may be terminated at any time by either party.

With the ORCGA’s DIRT data, members with ALAs have the following probability for damage
to their infrastructure:

Digging without a locate: 1 in 300
• Digging with a locate: 1 in 700
• Digging using an ALA: 1 in 500,000

Demonstrably, ALAs allow safer excavators to get through their work more quickly.

Creation of an incentive for safer work has allowed these work types to flourish in Ontario.
Communication companies are now running fiber to almost every urban home in the province. Damages are down due to the continued use of vacuum excavators.

Don’t waste paint on those that don’t need it. Use paint for those that do.


If you’re a member or an excavator operating in Ontario, or wish to implement your own ALA system in your jurisdiction, contact Jeff Hitchcock, Training & Education Program Manager, Ontario One Call at jhitchcock@on1call.com or call 1-844-257-9490 ext. 8806 to find out if ALAs are right for you.

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