Tips for Safe Digging Near Pipelines

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, excavation and construction are the largest single cause of serious pipeline accidents.

Use the tips below to help keep pipelines safe and protect your employees, equipment and reputation.

Know the Details of Your State’s One-Call Law

One-Call laws vary between states, but all outline requirements that excavators must follow to help keep pipelines and other underground utilities safe.  One-Call laws specify requirements for contacting 811 or your local One-Call center to have lines located and marked prior to digging.  They also include information regarding what to do if you damage a pipeline while digging.

Call 811 To Have Lines Marked Before Excavating

Always call 811 or your local One-Call center to have pipelines and other underground utility lines located and marked prior to starting your project.  In most states, One-Call is free and required by law.  When you notify One-Call, it is important that you provide accurate information regarding where you will be digging and that you wait the required time so that all lines can be located and marked.  Verify that gates are unlocked or that someone is at the location so that operators have access to the excavation site.  If you decide to dig in other locations or outside of the area originally identified, submit a new request and wait the required time.

For more information on 811, visit

Use Appropriate Equipment & Excavation Procedures

Notice the color-coded flags, stakes or paint marking and use appropriate techniques when digging near a pipeline.  Appropriate digging methods may include:  hand digging, soft digging, vacuum excavation methods and pneumatic hand tools. Refer to your state One-Call law and Common Ground Alliance’s Excavation Safety Best Practices for more information about selecting appropriate equipment and techniques for digging near pipelines.

A pipeline representative may elect to be at the job site to supervise excavation activity depending on the specifics of your state’s One-Call law, the proximity of the excavation activity from the pipeline and the specific characteristics of the pipeline, including size, product and pressure.  Notify operators if work crews will be crossing the pipeline right-of-way with motorized equipment or vehicles.

Immediately Report Scrapes, Dents or Pipeline Damage

Contact the pipeline operator immediately if you hit, dent, scrape or damage a pipeline.  Even small scrapes, dents or nicks in the protective coating need to be assessed to prevent future problems.

Watch, Listen & Smell for Signs of a Leak

Know the signs of a leak and what to do.  If you see, hear or smell signs of a pipeline leak immediately leave the area in an upwind direction.  Warn others to stay away and contact 911 from a safe distance.  Do not operate machinery or electrical equipment, including cell phones, near a potential pipeline leak.

Review “Recognizing and Responding to Pipeline Damage” to learn more about how to detect and respond to a potential pipeline leak.

Pre-Excavation Checklist

Prevent pipeline damage by using a pre-excavation checklist before every project.  Each project will vary depending on the location, size and emergency procedures.  Click here for a downloadable and printable PDF version of the pre-excavation checklist.

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