Safe Digging Best Practices: A Comprehensive Guide for Contractors

Safe digging and excavation practices are non-negotiable; they are essential for following municipal regulations, protecting lives, infrastructure, and our environment. According to the CCGA’s 2022 DIRT report, there were over ten thousand cases of reported damages from digging and excavation jobs across Canada. 

Now, If you think that’s a big number, here’s the bad news. These are only the incidents that were voluntarily reported by stakeholders. The report goes on to say that the major affected facilities due to these damages are natural gas lines and telecommunication; damages that incurred nationwide costs to the tune of about 1 billion dollars. Cost aside, the potential risk for injury and death is an even heftier price tag, which makes safe digging and excavation safety standards a non-negotiable priority.

Here’s the good news: This is a largely avoidable problem. About 25% of incidents were caused by no notification made to public safety offices like One Call Ontario. Failure to request locates by contractors has been one of the top 3 causes of incidents for almost 10 years running.  

Other provinces like Alberta and Quebec have their own requirements for digging projects, so we decided to put them all in one place.

As North America’s leading infrastructure-maintenance equipment supplier, the team at Joe Johnson Equipment is passionate about keeping contractors, homeowners, and municipalities educated on the best practices of safe digging across Canada. This guide aims to equip contractors with the information necessary to quickly and effectively safeguard their next excavation job against potential compliance issues, damages, and on-site injury. 

Image of a Contractor practicing safe-digging using Truvac Hydrovac Equipment

The Process of Safe Digging

Wherever you’re digging in Canada, contractors know the initial steps tend to look the same. They are: 

Step 1-  Request locates from the ruling provincial authority

Step 2- Receive infrastructure maps and mark locations or wait for the representative to mark them for you

Step 3- Hand dig to expose pipelines, or use a hydro-vac, before using mechanical excavation encourages you to “Know What’s Below”, which isn’t just catchy, it’s the most vital component of safe digging practices. Their site lays out the state and provincial contact points for locates on an interactive map.

We’ll have this information for you further down in this guide as we break down specific provincial regulations.

A hydrovac operator safe digging using Truvac TRXX in a community neighborhood

Safe Digging Information for Contractors By Province

A quick note on the following provincial safe digging sections that follow:

Locates authorities are the offices where requests for locates must be made. 

Locates notice refers to the recommended advance notice required by the office in question.

Validity length is the amount of time the locates will be valid, which includes the submitted paperwork and any markings on the job site (flags, paint, etc).

We’ll explore each province’s requirements and dive into some important information that contractors should keep in mind before and during digging and excavation jobs. 

Safe Digging in Ontario

Locates authority: Ontario One Call

Locates notice: 5 Business Days

Validity length: 60 Days or as specified by the infrastructure owner

The process: 

  • Contact Ontario One Call and submit your locate request either on Ontario One Call website or by
    1-800-400-2255 at least 5 business days before you’re scheduled to start work
  • Wait for the representatives of each infrastructure to arrive at the job site and mark it 
  • Dig safely and do not use mechanical excavation within 5 meters of vital pipelines and 1 meter of non-vital pipelines

For more details on excavation best practices, you can consult
Enbridge’s requirements for oil and natural gas pipelines.

When you contact One Call, they record the details of your job and contact the infrastructure owners of that location. Before starting work, you’ll have to wait until all owners have responded.

In a 2023 report, the ORCGA revealed that of Ontario’s damage incidents, 39% were because contractors failed to contact One Call.

As a result, TSSA Director of Fuels Safety Sam Sadeghi has emphasized the importance of following Ontario’s safety laws for any excavation work; stressing the importance of getting a valid pipeline locate before starting any digging.

A company called Robert Excavating was fined over $15,000 for damaging a pipeline that same year, which is one example of how steep fines for non-compliance to safe digging regulations can be. 

The minimum fine for failure to call in a locate before a job is $10,000 dollars.

If you’re planning a dig in Ontario, contact Ontario One Call and make sure your digging or excavation activity is well-informed and compliant. 

Safe Digging in Alberta

Locates authority: Utility Safety Partners

Locates notice: 3 Business Days

Validity length: 30 days, unless otherwise stated by the utility owner

The process:

  • Cleary your dig site with white paint.
  • Request locates from Utility Safety Partners on their website or by calling 1-800-242-3447 at least 3 – 5 days before you plan to dig. 
  • Identify customer-owned or privately-buried facilities in your dig area.
  • Contact the utility owners who are not registered with Utility Safety Partners’ notification service
  • Wait until the utility representatives have marked your site, and know what those marks mean before you dig.
  • Be aware of overhead energy and other utility assets in and near your job site area and create a plan to work safely around them.
  • Protect any exposed utilities to avoid any potential damage
  • Report any damage (caused or found).
  • Hand-expose buried utilities before using mechanical excavation equipment 

During the busy season (between May and September), contractors are encouraged to request locates even earlier than the suggested 3-5 day period. Keep in mind that you’ll need to register on the partner portal if you aren’t already an active member.

Alberta is the second largest offender in infrastructure damage, with 30% of Canada’s digging and excavation incidents happening here.  

A significant portion of the damage happens to telecommunications infrastructure and while excavation is responsible for a large portion of the province’s yearly reported accidents, 11% of damages are still attributed to failure to secure locates.

In fact,  Albertans are hit with $350 million in damages due to unplanned digging every year, along with cases of severe injury or death from contact with underground utilities. 

Online utility notification services like the Alberta-specific Click Before You Dig significantly reduce these risks. Homeowners, contractors, and asset owners must follow different steps to stay compliant in Alberta. 

It’s important to know your safe digging compliance steps to make sure you’re prioritizing the safety of your workers, the province’s infrastructure, and its people.

Safe Digging in Quebec

Locates authority: Info Excavation

Locates notice: 3 Business Days

Validity length: As stated on the request


  • Contact info-excavation online or by telephone at 1-800-663-9228
  • Receive your plans and keep them at the job site, they may outline additional steps in certain cases
  • Clearly mark pipeline locations and other infrastructure across your job site
  • Hand dig the required buffer zone to expose underground pipes 

There are
Seven major infrastructure owners in Quebec: Bell, CSEM, Gazifère, Énergir, Hydro-Québec, TELUS, and Vidéotron. They represent the natural gas, telecom, and electricity interests across the province. 

Fortunately, one click or call to info-excavation will trigger action by any infrastructure owner associated with your dig location. Still, a whopping 20% of contractors responsible for damages failed to do so in 2022.

This resulted in some 500+ gas pipelines damaged, not to mention over 400 incidents of damage to telecommunications infrastructure. 

When compared to similar data from other provinces, the estimated cost easily reaches a multimillion-dollar figure. 

The guidelines from provide comprehensive rules, technical specifications, and special requirements for anyone conducting excavation work near these infrastructures.

These guides will help you uphold higher safety standards and avoid costly damage to Quebec’s infrastructure so you won’t, as their website implies, dig us all into a hole.

Three Hydrovac Trucks at Joe Johnson Equipment Innisfil Branch

Benefits of Hydro-excavation 

Hydro excavation has garnered a lot of positive attention from experts for its speed and convenience. Hydro excavation uses pressurized water and a vacuum system to dig soil without harming underground utilities.

Its core benefits are:

  • Increased on-site safety
  • Can be used instead of hand-digging 
  • An eco-friendly alternative to mechanical excavation
  • Can dig in colder weather
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Long-term value

Best Hydrovacs in Canada 

While the upfront cost is higher, H
ydrovac equipment’s long-term returns are acknowledged by industry leaders. Hydrovacs reduced or replaced the need for Traditional Excavating and Hand-digging while completing jobs 30% faster with ½ of the crew needed.
In terms of dollars and cents, the estimated cost of a shovel and backhoe with a full crew compared to a hydro-excavation truck is up to 4x higher.

Additionally, no-dig technology accounts for, on average, a microscopic 0.2% of yearly excavation accidents. When compared to its mechanical counterparts, the difference in costly incidents is clear.

You can rent or purchase hydrovacs in Canada through trusted experts across the country. The brands that we trust are:

If you’re unsure what model you need to get the job done, you can find many top hydro-vac brands on our site, or consider these great options:

For urban excavation and larger jobs, the Paradigm, FLXX, and Wolf series are a perfect fit for projects in industrial, airports, utilities, and nuclear industries.

If you’re looking for a flexible solution for smaller jobs or hard-to-reach areas, the TRUVAC TRXX vacuum excavator is the first choice of the modern contractor.

All in all, hydro excavation is a large step forward in raising our standards in public works with sustainable, cost-conscious, and safer digging practices for most excavation jobs types in Canada.

As a premier supplier of Hydro-vac equipment, we can support your next excavation project, wherever it takes you.

Excavation Safety Standards and Training

Guidelines established by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) are vital to establishing worker safety by lowering the risk of accidents. 

Although their services stretch across a multitude of industries, their construction and infrastructure program strongly promotes safe digging requirements to bolster public safety and protect infrastructure integrity.

The CCGA is also a fantastic resource for municipalities and contractors alike, as they represent a unified Canadian effort to educate parties on excavation safety.

Some resources for training and education on safe digging:



Dig Safe Canada


Municipalities can use training programs to raise awareness about the importance of compliance and create a stronger sense of education when any excavation project begins. 

It’s up to all of us to promote and constantly evaluate the state of our safe digging practices.


Safe Digging for Contractors: Your Takeaway

Although the rules and requirements are different for contractors engaged in excavation and construction activities across locations in Canada, one thing is crystal clear. 

Communication is one of the major factors contributing to the damage to infrastructure and on-site incidents.

Local regulations and guidelines establish clear expectations to help contractors conduct excavation work safely by:

  • Obtaining the proper permits
  • Understand procedures for utility locates
  • Comply with provincial and municipal safe-digging guidelines

Excavation and public works contractors are a vital part of the maintenance and growth of municipalities across our country. We’re here to support you in your efforts to reduce avoidable and potentially costly incidents and keep your workers and the public safe from harm.

Safe Digging for Homeowners

We always recommend that homeowners reach out to a reputable and knowledgeable contractor if they’re thinking of digging on their property.

Many cases of DIY excavation result in damage to underground utilities and incur big fines, sometimes even endangering the homeowner and their neighbors. 

Municipalities can provide local resources and guidelines to help homeowners navigate safe digging procedures effectively. If you’re thinking of starting a project on your property, please make sure you:

  • Contact ClickBeforeYouDig before any excavation on the property.
  • Identify and mark the proposed dig site.
  • Hand dig to expose utilities if necessary.
  • Respect utility locate markings and avoid digging in those areas.
  • Backfill excavated areas carefully to avoid damaging utilities.

Homeowners have the same responsibility to infrastructure and safety as contractors do, so check in with local works authorities to get the information you need before digging and potentially damaging important underground facilities on your property, you’ll be happy you did.

Safe Digging with Joe Johnson Equipment

Since 1988, Joe Johnson Equipment has proudly served municipalities, contractors, and industrial companies in Canada and the U.S. 

We rent, sell, and offer training on a wide range of infrastructure-maintenance equipment including excavators, sewer nozzles, street sweepers, and industrial vacuums.

Our passion for public safety, especially excavation safety, is an important part of supplying North America’s workforce with the right equipment and the best tools to get the job done safely and successfully.

Safe digging is all of our responsibility, and we aim to support our vision: Clean air, clean water, and clean streets for communities across the country.

Build a safer and more resilient future for all Canadians, one project at a time!

For more information or help to choose the right equipment contact us

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