Bill 8, the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act, 2012, has been a long time coming. Championed by the ORCGA, Progressive Conservative MPP Bob Bailey and New Democrat MPP Paul Miller, the bill received Royal Assent on June 19, 2012, coming into force the same day. The insurance industry is among the many stakeholders that can benefit from its passage.
The ORCGA serves as a means to unite all stakeholders in the utilities industry through forming a common alliance to promote efficient and effective damage prevention for Ontario’s vital underground infrastructure. The not-for-profit organization was recognized in 2003 to advance adoption of the best practices of the Common Ground Alliance — born of the amalgamation of Ontario One Call and its members’ Damage Prevention Committee, comprised of utility owners and locate organizations, and the Technical Standards & Safety Authority’s (TSSA) Third Party Damage Prevention Task Force, made up of Enbridge, Union Gas, the Council of Ontario Construction Associations, Landscape Ontario, the Construction Safety Association of Ontario, the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association and the TSSA.
Ontario One Call has been instrumental in bringing together large organizations such as the Ministry of Labour, the TSSA, the Electrical Safety Authority and the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association with the utility companies. The next phase is to engage the insurance industry, which will, ultimately, prove both a large and a strategic stakeholder in the fight to mitigate damage to underground facilities. The industry can affect change through policy wordings, rewarding good clients and encouraging non-compliant clients to modify their behaviours.
PASSAGE INTO LAW
The passage of Bill 8 establishes Ontario One Call Ltd. as the single point of contact for all underground utility location services in the province. This centralization will benefit stakeholders involved in the protection of underground infrastructure and further benefit those involved in the insurance industry.
The bill notes that Ontario One Call, the corporation, has several responsibilities: operate a call system to receive excavator requests for the location of underground infrastructure within Ontario; identify for excavators whether underground infrastructure is located in the vicinity of a proposed excavation or dig site; notify a member of the corporation of proposed excavations or digs that may affect the underground infrastructure of the member; and raise public awareness of the corporation and the need for safe digging practices.
With the passage of Bill 8, it becomes the shared responsibility of the gas, electric, telecommunication and construction industries to promote safe digging around critical infrastructure that includes phone lines, Internet cables, water lines, natural gas lines and hydro lines.
The industry-led One Call system ensures that homeowners, surveyors and contractors are aware of all underground utilities, which must be marked, at a dig’s location. The new system eliminates the need for the many time-consuming calls that now must be made to utility owners and operators. Furthermore, the new requirements will help reduce the number of illegal excavations, incidents caused by damage to underground utilities, interruption of services to the consumer, and claims and dollars spent cleaning up the mess.
“This new law isn’t just about streamlining a confusing system to make it easier to dig in your backyard; it’s about preventing accidents and saving lives. But also, this law will cut red tape, allow shovels to get into the ground quicker and put job-creating plans into action faster,” says Bailey.
Adds Miller, “To have been one of the MPPs who brought greater worker and community safety to all parts of Ontario, fulfills one of my goals in being elected to provincial Parliament.”
PARTNERING WITH INSURANCE
Millions of dollars are spent each year to handle claims and losses that are a direct result of the construction industry excavating without first locating underground infrastructure.
The ORCGA has united industry stakeholders through a 430-member network working toward a common goal of safe digging practices and shared responsibility. The organization has created best practices (introduced in 2004 and now regarded as the accepted benchmark for stakeholders); a training program (Dig Safe Program, introduced in 2009); and a unified approach to effective damage prevention, all working in concert to meet twin goals of enhancing public safety and the reliability of the underground infrastructure.
It becomes imperative the ORCGA and the insurance industry work together to help encourage policyholders to adopt the best practices and train employees. Alliance officials are confident the collaborative effort will bring about an immediate reduction in the number of accidents and claims and, in turn, a cost savings to the insurance industry as a whole.
The ORCGA points to the insurance industry’s efforts around the Wood Energy Technology Transfer (WETT) program and wood heat. As many who underwrite personal lines are aware, there has been an evolution, almost a revolution, in the use of wood heat in Canada. This was a major cause of losses to the insurance industry until about the mid-1980s, spurring the formation of the WETT program.
Stakeholders in both the wood heat industry and the insurance industry worked together to create an environment where proper use of wood heat was rewarded and improper use was no longer considered acceptable. The result was a reduction in the number of claims, lost lives and total losses.
With the implementation of WETT education and best practices programs, today, about 20 years later, WETT and the insurance industry have changed the face of wood heat. This partnership ensures that the use of wood heat is and will continue to be a safe and reliable source of heating.
This is a good news story, one that resonates well with consumers. In fact, the wording in many insurance policies now insists on certified appliances and the use of WETT-certified individuals to perform installation, repairs, maintenance and inspections on wood heat appliances.
The ORCGA’s mandate is similar to that of WETT — educate its members, create and instigate best practices and work with the insurance industry to help put in place programs to reward properly trained companies and individuals. The insurance industry can be a strong advocate for safe digging and, like the WETT program, can assist the alliance in becoming a vital component in issuing policies for companies involved in excavating.
This past April, the ORCGA held its first Insurance Awareness seminar. It was attended by participants from all facets of the insurance industry, including companies such as Intact Insurance, Economical Insurance, Frank Cowan Company Limited, Masters Insurance brokers, ClaimsPro, Allstate, RSA, Northbridge Insurance, Unifund Assurance Company, CAA and BFL Canada Risk and Insurance Services Inc.
Insurance partners will have another opportunity to further become engaged in the effort as part of an upcoming Property Casualty and Underwriters Club (PCUC) luncheon this January, where the ORCGA has been invited to continue discussions with the insurance industry.
The thought is that the ORCGA working along with the insurance industry can make change happen, reducing the chances of excavation work putting at risk vital underground infrastructure in Ontario.