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Digging Safety

- January 8, 2019 by Ken Helfrich (View all posts by Ken)

Do you really know that you are clear below or do you just dig until you “hit” something?

According to the Common Ground Alliance, an underground utility line is damaged once every six minutes because someone dug without knowing the approximate location of underground utilities. Furthermore, there are more than 20 million miles of underground utilities in the U.S. alone!

What happens if you don’t verify what’s below? There may be serious negative consequences, including:

  • Service outages
  • Construction delays
  • Serious injuries to employees and others
  • Repair costs
  • Costly penalties
  • Bad publicity
  • Loss of future jobs

All 50 states and five Canadian provinces have adopted an excellent system to help prevent damage to underground utility lines and subsequent injury to workers — call before you dig. This is known as “ 811.” It’s a Positive Response System that you can use FREE with 24/7 access. Every state has a local “one call” number that allows anyone to contact all their local utilities with one phone call and have the dig area marked for existing utility lines prior to digging. If you call 811 anywhere in the US or the participating Canadian provinces, you will be transferred to your local “one call” system.

The law requires that you verify (Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act, Chapter 556). Verifying tells you that you are clear below….and it is not just a best practice — it makes sense.

Check your state requirements to ensure you have allowed sufficient time for the utilities to be marked. Generally, the requirement is to call two to three business days prior to digging, but not more than ten days before beginning work.

Ready to dig? Follow these steps to do it safely:

  • Call “811” two to three full business days before you plan on digging. Check the state map to find out how far in advance you need to call.
  • Wait two days so that utilities can locate and mark their underground lines with paint and flags.  The marks indicate the utility’s approximate location.
  • Confirm that all affected utility operators have responded to your request and marked underground utilities.
  • Keep the marks visible during the entire project.
  • If no marks have been provided, contact the “811” to ensure sure the process has been completed.
  • Call “811” again if the marks are destroyed.
  • Dig carefully within 24 inches of the marks.
  • If, while digging, you discover that things don’t match, don’t assume anything. Contact “811” and secure a clarification.

Safe digging!