City crew cited for gas-leak evacuation

Police roadblock on 24 Avenue east of 160 Street.  - File photo
Police roadblock on 24 Avenue east of 160 Street.
— image credit: File photo

A WorkSafe BC investigation of a South Surrey gas leak that forced the evacuation of dozens of homes and businesses on July 30 has found a City of Surrey crew at fault.

The crew was digging up the intersection of 24 Avenue and 160 Street to cap an old unused water line when their backhoe severed a four-inch natural gas line.

A written report by WorkSafe investigator Ronald Schouten released to Peace Arch News last week says the crew had a map that showed eight-inch and four-inch gas lines running near the water pipe.

Using an electronic detector, the workers were able to precisely locate the bigger gas line, but they had difficulty locating the smaller one, the report states.

“(After locating the larger gas line, the crew) then attempted to locate the south 4” gas main but could not get a proper locate reading from the scope in the area to be excavated,” the Schouten report says. “They were successful in getting a scope reading of the 4” gas main farther to the south, several feet away from the excavation location, and marked the pavement accordingly.”

The report goes on to say the workers followed safety procedures by using a backhoe to remove the pavement and first 12 inches of top soil before digging down to the water main by hand.

When they excavated around the water line, the crew didn’t find the gas line.

Buy when one worker used the backhoe to remove soil from the side of the excavation, he hit the still-buried gas line.

That, the report said, was a violation of safety regulations that require the relocation of all underground utilities to be “accurately determined” before excavating or drilling with power tools.

“The safe work procedures by the employer were not adhered to by the crew despite having received training in these procedures,” the report says.

An “order to workers” has been issued, meaning one or more members of the crew have been cited for failing to follow regulations and directed to take steps to make sure the mistake is not repeated.

Vincent Lalonde, Surrey’s general manager of engineering, said the city is using the incident to “reinforce” the need to follow safety rules and the worker who operated the backhoe is “participating in helping us educate other workers.”

Lalonde said he could not discuss any possible punishment of the city employee owing to privacy regulations.

“The important thing is that we’re learning from this,” Lalonde said.

The 1:45 p.m. gas line break led to the evacuation of the immediate area, including Peace Arch News offices.

As the day progressed, the evacuation was expanded to include most of the businesses in the 50-acre Grandview Corners shopping district on both sides of 24 Avenue, as well as some residential homes on the fringe of the business area.

It took about four hours to stop the gas leak and restore service.

Power to the area was cut off as a safety precaution to allow inspections of affected businesses to make sure there were no lingering pockets of gas.

Electricity was restored shortly after 6 p.m.

There were no reported injuries.

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