top of page

The Challenges of Private Locates

Requesting public locates for your excavation project is a complex process with many parties having a definitive role before you can excavate. The private locate process is just as equally complex, however, there is little to no information available for excavators to learn about private utility infrastructure and it’s complex locate process. Many excavation companies and their workers learn about private locates the hard way, and by that time, everyone is scrambling to figure out why they have a damage.

Private locates are similar to public locates, but very different in their execution, and there many factors that increase the risk of not finding all the private buried utility infrastructure in a work area. What makes matters even worse, is when an excavator does not understand how to manage private locates. OWN Your Safety’s President Grant Piraine co-authored a great article “The Challenges of Private Locates” with industry expert John Scaife, Director of Urban X. This article will help you better understand the differences between public and private locates and how you can reduce your risk or striking a buried facility when excavating on private property. GREAT READ, check out the article below.


Thanks to the Ontario Underground Infrastructure Notification System Act and the concerted efforts of all Ontario public utility stakeholders, including the ORCGA, awareness regarding underground utility damage prevention continues to result in significant increases in locate requests with a simultaneous relative decrease in the number of damages caused by excavators. The system of processes, responsibilities and regulations regarding these “public locates” are well documented and understood; however, the “private locates” system is much different. From a technical perspective, the processes by which public and private utilities are physically traced and marked are very similar; in fact, the locate equipment, procedures and operational requirements are virtually the same. However, private locate contractors face additional challenges than their public counterparts including: incomplete or non-existent records, varying business environments and operational conditions which are most at times very different. To understand and appreciate these challenges, we must examine the stakeholder roles and the public and private utility locate processes.


To begin to understand the challenges of private locates, we need to understand the roles of the major public utility stakeholders typical to the locate industry in Ontario:

  • The public utility owner: the owner of the underground utility who is responsible for installation, construction, operation and maintenance of their assets. The role of the utility owner includes responsibility to their shareholders, stakeholders and customers for service delivery continuance through protection of their underground assets which includes proactive damage prevention via the utility locate process;

  • The locate service provider: the utility locate service is provided by either the utility owner’s internal resources or a sanctioned contractor. The role of the damage prevention technician (DPT) is to protect the underground assets of the utility owner from damage due to excavation;

  • The excavator: the party responsible for breaking ground that, under OHSA, has a duty to ensure that locates are completed.


The entire public locate process is controlled and paid for by the public utility owner, including education and awareness, the resources at ON1Call and provision of DPT locate documentation; this work is completed to the standards, tolerances, insurance requirements and business practices of the utility owner and relevant Provincial regulations. This process follows business logic that is in the best interest of the utility owner to protect their assets using developed systems, protocols and procedures. The legislated ON1Call system ensures that all utility owners within the public lands are notified of the excavation request so they can facilitate public utility locates to protect their underground assets keeping workers and the public safe. Public utility owners not only pay for asset protection but are also fully supportive of the public locate process. In most instances, if a public utility owner does not have a record showing the location of the underground asset, or the underground asset cannot be accurately marked by the DPT, the public utility will take custody of the issue and look for alternate means of supplying this information to the excavator. These public locates are provided on underground utility plant owned and maintained by the utility. Public utilities are within the municipal right of ways and road allowances and may exist on private property via easements. The public utility owner is responsible for its assets to the point at which they have delivered their ‘service’ to their customer, or the demarcation point. Prior to the demarcation point, the public utility owner will take responsibility for protection of their asset by providing locates. Beyond the demarcation point, the utility owner does not own the asset will not provide asset protecting locates. For example, a gas distribution company’s assets include ownership of the all gas distribution plant up to and including the regulator/meter on each private property; the demarcation point. The landowner can retain an authorized contractor to install additional gas lines within their property to service equipment or out-buildings. However, the gas company doesn’t own this landowner installed segment of underground gas plant beyond the demarcation point, this asset is owned by the private property owner.


Although the technical processes to protect the private assets are essentially the same, the private locate process is structured by the independent business practices of the private locate contractor and their contractual relationship with their typical client, the excavator. The key differences here are utility ownership awareness, business environment and operational conditions. It is in the best interest of any owner to protect their assets. For a private business landowner, these assets include any structures, systems, resources or staff which assist in the generation of revenue. However, they often don’t realize that their responsibility also extends to their underground assets, and as such, they are a key stakeholder in the asset protection utility locate process. Contractually, the immediate client for the private utility locate contractor is rarely the asset owner (landowner) but a representative, professional consultant or contracted party (excavator), retained by the asset owner or tenant to facilitate evaluation and/or change of the owner’s physical assets. Private locate contractors are typically hired by these third parties, not the asset owner, such that the third party is procuring and paying for the private locate service.

Although the role of the DPT is protect the utility owners assets, the subtle distinction is that the private locate contractor is not really hired to protect these underground assets but to protect their client (usually the excavator) from damaging these assets. Operationally, following industry established protocols (see CCGA Best Practices) the utility records such as all maps, documents, notes, construction as-builts, etc., possessed by the asset owner should be provided by the asset owner to the private locator to complete their work. However, this information is often not supplied to the private locate contractor, either by the asset owner or by their client (usually the excavator). Ideally, the asset owner should make all information available and ensure access is provided to all hook up points (via maintenance rooms, utility rooms, etc.) so that the private locate contractor can fulfill their role of protecting the underground assets. Subsequently, these requirements often fall to the excavator or to the private locate contractor to insist on reviewing drawings, inspecting mechanical rooms and utility structures, and interviewing facility personnel about buried utilities. This arm’s length communication often results in compromised information that diminishes the private locate contractor’s ability to protect the owner’s underground assets. Consequently, private locate contractors are often challenged to sleuth out the underground private utility network without any utility drawings, building access, or asset owner cooperation. The private locate contractor’s client, often a third-party excavator, may even ask to ‘clear’ excavation locations, when the private locate contractor has no idea of what may be buried or where the hook up points are to assist in defining these underground assets. Challenged to protect the underground assets of the asset owner, often without support from the asset owner, the private locate contractor is contractually bound to a third party client, and placed in the difficult position of providing comprehensive results while being held accountable for restitution of errors and omissions. This operating environment has led to a variety of business practices and accountabilities for private locate contractors and their clients; very different than the standardized process controls and regulations governing the provision of public locates.


The public utility locate process is well established and through industry awareness, commitment and regulations is working better every day in Ontario at protecting the underground assets of the public utility owners from excavation damage. The public utility locates are paid for and controlled by these asset owners and the role of their DPT representative is to protect these assets. The private locate contractor is typically challenged to complete the underground utility locates without the underground asset owner support, enter a contractual relationship with a third party excavator to prevent their client from damaging the owners underground assets and deliver flawless information in order to receive remuneration for services rendered. Technical issues aside, these are certainly significant challenges for the private locate contractor.

bottom of page