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Underground Utility Strikes
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Underground Utility Strikes Prevention Best Practices

Last Updated on August 18, 2022 by Admin

Underground utility strikes have always been a big deal as they can cause a lot of damage. They are not only a costly event but also dangerous. So, it is critical to know how to dig around safely.

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A sudden increase in burying lines for electricity, cable, phone, etc., has been noticeable in recent years. Underground utilities are undoubtedly enhanced a city’s aesthetics and protection against storms.

However, they have also created a number of problems for people and utilities involved in the underground work or excavation. Remember that damaging or simply hitting underground utilities result in loss of service, millions of dollar loss, fatal injuries, or even death.

Common Ground Alliance Damage Incident Reporting Tool Report 

The Common Ground Alliance makes an effort to publish a yearly report known as Damage Incident Reporting Tool Report (DIRT).

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This report includes all information from different construction industries and utility stakeholders regarding the utility line strikes and damage.

According to the 2020 report, there were 385,381 utility damage incidents across the US and Canada. Here are some of the report’s quick statistics:

  • Developers/contractors were the excavators responsible for most of the damage incidents.
  • The top three root causes for damage were: facility markers inaccurately (7 percent), an excavator dug before conducting test holes or potholes (15 percent), and failure to make notifications (31 percent).
  • Trencher/backhoe and hand tools are equipment responsible for the majority of damage incidents.
  • The top facility type damage was the telecommunications and followed by natural gas.

Best Practices to Prevent Underground Utility Line Strikes 

People and companies involved in the excavation should know the best and safest way to execute the job. Construction workers must undergo a briefing regarding the rules and regulations prior to starting the project. By doing so, everyone stays safe from start to finish.

Here are a few best practices that will help prevent underground utility line strikes:

Always Call 811 

Calling 811 will help you have lines marked 2-3 days before digging. This free service helps prevent damage incidents to the underground utility lines. It will notify the utility owners to dig and enable them to have utility locators come out. Then, they will mark utilities in that area.

Once the locators come out and all affected utility owners have confirmed their response to the requirements, digging can start.

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Determine the Tolerance Zone 

Do not dig with pointed tools or machinery within the tolerance zone. Every state has its unique excavation requirements within the tolerance zone, which involves the facility’s width. It is around 18 inches on either outside edge’s side of the underground facility. Some states require a larger width. So, you need only to use blunt-edged excavation and hand digging.

Stop Excavation, If Necessary 

If you have discovered unmarked utilities or have come across areas with utility lines, it is advisable to stop the excavation work. Then, you need to dial 811 to have them come back out.

Think of Other Methods

If you work on private property or in a facility, you can discover lines installed by private companies that are not part of the 811 system. That is why you need to think of and use other methods, including as-built drawings, private locators, and ground generator radars. You can also hire professionals with experience with the facilities to locate possible lines prior to excavation.

What is the Best Thing to Do Once You Hit Underground Utility Lines?

When working on an excavation project and you suddenly discover underground lines, it can be a scary event. However, it is best to stay calm and perform the necessary steps to keep the area safe for everyone.

Below are a few tips on what you should do if you encounter this scenario:

Clear the Entire Area 

If you discover underground lines, do not stay in that area. You must assess the problem.

First, you need to clear the area if you hit underground lines. Ensure to relocate all your crew members to a safe place. From there, start assessing the situation from afar to keep everyone and everything safe.

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Keep Yourself Aware of Everything 

If there are fire sparks or electrical issues, you can easily notice them. You need to be cautious of the smells as well. Remember that natural gas has a distinct smell, so you can easily determine if something is wrong.

Call 911 as soon as possible if you smell natural gas. This issue is dangerous to the surrounding areas, for you, and your crew. Of course, the only serious problem would cause sparks of any kind. So, you have to be mindful of that. When making a phone call, you need to do it from afar enough distance.

Contact the Utility Company

Once you assess the immediate dangers in the area, the next step you should take is to call the responsible utility company. You have to inform them of what happened. They can give you information about what you should do with the situation.

How to Hand Dig Around the Underground Lines with Safety in Mind

Here are some tips on how you can safely and adequately hand dig areas with underground utility lines:

  • Use a blunt-edged or rounded shovel to prevent potential damage to the utility lines.
  • Use Utility mapping.
  • Remove soil with care to prevent prying soil against the line.
  • Work cautiously and carefully around the underground lines, focusing on not causing damage to them.
  • Never start digging directly over the marked area; instead, do it on the side of the marked area to locate utility lines and prevent damaging them.

Conclusion 

When excavating, you can encounter a lot of hazards, including underground utilities. Almost every line strike is expensive, and a lot of incidents that damage electric and gas lines can be dangerous for everyone. It is critical to have a deeper understanding of the frequencies at which line strikes take place, as well as determine the best practices to prevent this event from happening. Plus, procedures must be in place for when problems arise during the excavation or utility lines are damaged.

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