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Before You Dig goes national


The push for a national service delivering pre-excavation information to the building and construction industry is gaining momentum with the establishment of Before You Dig Australia, which is superseding the previous structure where states and territories had their own service.

The idea of a pre-excavation service goes back to the 1980s, when a gap pipe explosion in Perth prompted the creation of Dial Before You Dig in WA, and this evolved into six separate entities around the country.

“Two years ago the boards realised there was more synergy in coming together as a national entity and peak body,” says Mell Greenall, chief executive at BYDA.

“The idea is that BYDA will be a national body and voice for safe excavation with asset owners all around Australia.”

The organisation’s mission is “Zero Damage – Zero Harm” and Greenall says she challenged her team on her first day in the job “to be brave enough to be different” and that success required everyone to step outside of their comfort zone “and be honest with each other about what hadn’t worked in the past.”

It comes from an “authenticity” Greenall acquired with her rural upbringing, growing up in regional Queensland where her parents bred cattle and grow lucerne.

“We were raised to work hard, but more than that we were raised to be true to ourselves even if that meant not always being popular,” says Greenall.

“I think I can give a lot of credit for my resilience, independent thinking and authenticity to my upbringing, and definitely my love for a good steak!”

It is an approach Greenall took into her leadership previous roles with industry associations, ultimately moving into the construction industry and to her current BYDA role.

BYDA has 600 members, most of whom are asset owners such as Telstra and APA, which have underground assets at risk of being damaged by excavation. It is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the asset owners, who pay 64 cents for every referral they send out.

Greenall says that BYDA is now fielding 25,000 referrals per day, around half of them from the residential sector, including individuals doing their own projects, with the balance from the building and construction industry working on commercial projects. 70% of the damage, however, comes from the commercial sector.

“To put that in perspective, one of our larger members in the energy space in New South Wales averages 200 strikes a month on their infrastructure,” says Greenall.

“Remember that is just one member in one state. We have 600 members across the country who own infrastructure, so even if you took that as an average and rolled it out that is far too high.”

In coping with the surge in demand, and aligning with BYD’s safety mission, technology solutions have been key.

Originally, enquiries were responding to by post and mailed out in hard copy up to week later, but the organisation went through a major data aggregation, digitalisation and automation project in 2018 and 2019 which has significantly improved response times.

From the moment an enquiry is registered on the website to when the information is delivered is now down to ten minutes, but Greenall has a much larger vision for where this can go.

She sees the potential for BYDA to play a critical role in aggregating increasingly sophisticated geospatial data from all players in the industry and creating a constantly updated data base of all of Australia’s underground assets, and all of the construction activity. There is also an aspiration to make using the service mandatory for all construction activity in Australia.

“In the US and UK they have gone through this process and produce targeted reporting and root cause analysis of incidents,” says Greenall.

“That is one of my ambitions to bring that here, because it is really one of the missing pieces of the puzzle at the moment, and we are starting to ramp up our discussions with members on how do we collate the data and how do we put that into something meaningful back into the industry as a key safety tool.”

State and Territory Governments are currently involved in digital twinning projects, and Greenall says BYD has a “seat at the table” in these discussions and how to optimise the sharing of data from these projects with industry.

Data on underground assets in Australia, for examples, conforms to industry standards which are “indicative only,” but the digital twinning projects – driven by geo-spatial data – create the potential for the data to be even more accurate and real-time.

“We are looking at how we can partner with government agencies and doing a proof of concept on how we can embed Before You Dig into every part of an infrastructure project before it goes ahead,” says Greenall.

“It’s about how we aggregate the data and share that modelling back to asset owners to improve the quality of plans and maps throughout the country, along with meaningful feedback loops to industry so we can also capture the data.”

The key going forward, she says, is to create “collaborative data spaces” and being able to share data going forward.

The goal now is to create BYDA as a national portal and a home for an ever improving digital twin which is layered with the organisation’s safety messaging.

“The data is now key but it comes back to the safety imperative and how we can drive better safety outcomes,” says Greenall.

She gives the example of earlier this year when strikes in Victoria and across the water in Tasmania took out Tasmania’s internet connectivity for eight hours.

“This is not just about somebody not being able to watch Netflix, it is critical communication for health services and industry,” says Greenall.

“Every time a shovel goes into the ground it’s a chance of hitting high voltage power or high volume gas or fibre optics and that could damage critical infrastructure and put it at risk.”

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